Assoc. Prof. of Buddhism and Comparative Theology
Each term BC comparative theology faculty teach upper level courses on Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as dialogue partners for comparative theology. Courses offered this year, for example, have included: Holy Text in Comparative Perspective (Hindu, Jewish and Christian texts), Christ Compared: Readings in Comparative Theology, Readings in Classical Hindu Texts, Islamic Theology, Sufis of Islam, Judaism: Practice and Belief, Educating Toward the Other: Jewish and Christian Perspectives (of each other), Mahayana Buddhist Philosophy, and Tibetan Buddhist Traditions.
Comparative study and discussion is promoted within other Boston College programs: The Jewish-Christian-Muslim Trialogue in which scholars of each tradition regularly explore topics of mutual concern, the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relationship, and our weekly Comparative Theology lunches which provide faculty and students with comparative interests a venue to share their questions, experiences and research. Speakers are regularly invited to campus to present on topics of interest to comparative theology. BC faculty are quite actively involved in regular presentations and discussions with the Boston Area Society for Comparative Theology and Boston Theological Society in their discussions of comparative theology or theology of religions. Happily also, a new multi-faith worship and meditation space has been created on BC campus for use by diverse traditions represented by our student body.
All undergraduates at Boston College are required to take two terms of theology. One of the two-term offerings that fulfill the requirement is a course called "Religious Quest" which is extremely popular with students. Each professor, in line with his or her own expertise, brings one or more other religious traditions into intimate dialogue with Christianity in a systematic way. In recent years, the comparison with Christianity has focussed on: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, African Religions, Native American religions, Greco-Roman religions, or Chinese religions. The faculty and their teaching assistants are part of a comparative theology culture on campus. They meet together a few times a year to discuss what works (and what does not) in the teaching of comparative theology, and to plan presentations that in which all eight or ten Religious Quest sections may participate. This year, two panels addressed the question: "Why Study Others' Religions?" In the fall term, the panel consisted of Religious Quest faculty; in the spring term, their students presented their views on the same question.
Currently I am writing a book, my own translation of and commentary on a twelfth century Tibetan Buddhist text that teaches specific procedures for cultivating compassion as an expression of the awareness that all things are "empty" of substantial existence (Geshe Chekawa's Seven Part Mind-Heart Training, bLo sbyong). My commentary draws upon four Tibetan traditions of the practice: Kadampa, Nyingma, Kargyu and Gelug. I am seeking thereby to provide new means of entry into core Mahayana Buddhist understandings by way of meditative experience, and to do so in a way that is both rigorous, accountable to tradition, and more accessible to non-Buddhists than prior commentaries. Increasingly I have been invited to teach these practices and associated concepts in retreats and workshops throughout the United States. In those settings, I've explored introducing such things both to long Buddhist practitioners and to non-Buddhists, notably Christian and Jewish scholars and teachers. This provides a rich matrix of comparative dialogue and mutual learning, which informs not only my current book project, but also my classroom teaching.
I have found Boston College's Catholic ethos a rich context for my own reflections, informing my interests in Buddhist Studies through comparison: e.g. 1) ways that Buddhist practices of offering, service and devotion are closely connected to the cultivation and expression of wisdom (analogues in Christian practice); 2) liturgical, ritual expressions of that intended to open humans to the triadic nature of reality as Buddhahood embodied (tri-kaya) or Trinity; 3) the intimate relationship between unconditional love and the wisdom that knows reality as it is in Christian and Buddhist understanding; 4) the Mahayana concept of "skillful means" as a traditionally ahistorical hermeneutic to make sense of an historical phenomena: diverse means through which so many different cultures have apparently "caught on" and expressed the Buddha's teaching --- parallels and contrasts with Christian strategies for relating the one to the many.John Makransky,
Buddhism and Comparative Theology,
Created: October 4, 2000 Updated: April 7, 2001