The Modern Buddhist-Christian Dialogue:
Two Universalistic Religions in Transformation, By Paul O. Ingram
Reviewed by Charles Hallisey
Philosophy East and West
Copyright by University of Hawaii Press¡@
The notion of dialogue is a newcomer to theology and religious studies,
but the term already has many usages. For some, dialogue is a practical
means of overcoming religious exclusivism; for others, dialogue is an
interpretive tool favored by some phenomenologists of religion. It also
frequently names a hybrid form of theological reflection, one which
begins with the assumption that each religious tradition has only a partial
perspective on "the Sacred."
For the most part, Ingram is interested in dialogue as a theological
method. His 'transcendentologist' confession of faith is put in the follow-
ing, typically tentative, fashion:
I ... have a strong hunch that the evidence of the history of religions suggests
that every religious Way, in differing degrees, represents traditions of human
encounter with one sacred reality, named and experienced according to the
particular historical-cultural contexts of each Way. I cannot, of course, "prove"
this assertion ... but nevertheless, I do believe, in the sense of having a strongly
held opinion, that the evidence of the history of religions supports my hunch. If
so, interreligious dialogue itself becomes a form of religious praxis by which we
open ourselves to fuller apprehension of the Sacred.... (p~ 419)
Ingram wants to be visionary, to suggest something of the 'creative
ransformation' that will result from a dialogue between the Buddhist and
Christian 'Ways'. According to Ingram, this transformation is a desperate
necessity since "it can be cogently argued that in the present post-
Christian and post-Buddhist pluralistic age, traditional Christian theological
reflection and the Buddhist world view are presently at a dead end" (p. 417).
The tentative stance taken in the confession of faith quoted above gives way
here to one which some will find arrogant.
After a survey of Buddhist and Christian attitudes toward other
religions in the past, Ingram offers two proposals of the kind of transformation
he has in mind: one concerned with self-identity, the other with God. Consistent
with his foundational assumption, Ingram argues that "the traditional Buddhist
nonself paradigm and the traditional Christian self paradigm are, in separation
from one another, inadequate descrip-
tive accounts of the human experience of self-identity through time"
(p.312). In the same vein, he concludes that "Christians can deepen their
awareness of the Biblical images of God through dialogical appropriation
of the Mahaayaana Buddhist doctrine of Emptiness into Christian teaching"
(p.379). Both of these discussions are structured by categories and as-
sumptions from Whitehead's process philosophy.
As is often the case with works about dialogue, Ingram's book comes
across as sincere and well intentioned. It is not very good at persuading,
however, and I suspect the kind of reception it gets from individual
readers will depend on whether or not they share Ingram's hunches, his
evaluations of contemporary religion, and his commitment to a "White-
headian version of process philosophy." Anyone can probably gauge
how they will value the book by their reaction to the various quotes in
this review. It is not an original work in the study of religion, though,
and specialists in Buddhist or Christian studies will probably be disappointed
by some simplistic presentations.
Finally, it should be noted that Ingram's theological agenda is
inadequate when judged by the standards of the Christian theology he so
grandly dismisses. Contemporary theologians, operating in the pluralistic
context referred to by Ingram, are well aware of the importance and
difficulty of "finding criteria for evaluating theological constructs, for
rejecting certain claims and holding to others,"' and they will find an
equally serious concern for elaborating such criteria missing in Ingram's
discussions. Traditional Christian theologians included among their tasks
the expectation that the theologian would be concerned with how and
why any portrayal of God or the world is true. Ingram's background as a
historian of religions may betray him: as he notes (p.iii), historians of
religions often try to avoid or postpone questions of truth or value. The
theologian, just as much as the philosopher, should try to meet them
1 - Cordon D. Kaufman, An Essay on Theological Method (Missoula:
Scholars Press, 1975), p. 37.