Buddhism Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
Kristin Largen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0129


The field of Buddhist-Christian dialogue is relatively new, having its formal genesis in roughly the last half of the 20th century. In the United States, D. T. Suzuki was instrumental in raising awareness of Buddhism among the general public, Zen Buddhism in particular, and the Dalai Lama has become a popular ambassador of Tibetan Buddhism. It is fair to say that these two forms of Buddhism are the most well known in the United States in the early 21st century. Historically much of the literature has been written from a Christian perspective, making comparisons and seeking insights from Buddhism; however, that is changing in the contemporary landscape, as more and more Buddhist voices are entering the conversation. Major themes that are consistently found in the literature are emptiness, mindfulness, meditation, and comparisons between the Buddha and Jesus as well as comparisons of their teachings. One of the interesting components of this particular interreligious dialogue is that it is one of the few places where one regularly sees discussed the concept of religious dual belonging: that is, self-identifying as a “Christian Buddhist” or a “Buddhist Christian.” There continues to be debate about whether and how such an identification is viable. Most though not all of the literature treats Mahayana Buddhist schools, and Zen continues to have a prominent place. In terms of the specific citations listed in this entry, a few qualifiers need to be stated in advance. There are of course many books, both introductory and advanced, that treat Buddhist-Christian dialogue as part of a larger interreligious conversation. Such works include basic textbooks on world religions as well as books that examine specific issues, such as sin, God, anthropology, and so forth, from the perspective of a variety of religious traditions. Not all such references are included here, as there simply are too many to list and they fall outside the parameters set for this entry. This bibliography also does not list the many Asian Christian theologians who are naturally quite influenced by Buddhism in their work but whose writing is better characterized as Asian Christian systematic theology. Finally, this bibliography entry does not list those works written by Buddhist thinkers but clearly geared toward a Christian audience. While such texts may spark a form of interreligious dialogue among their readers, the books themselves present Buddhist philosophy and practice exclusively. Instead, the books and articles in this bibliography explicitly address aspects of dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity. One common format for books in this category is to collect a variety of perspectives, representing a variety of Buddhist traditions, under general themes; those works are listed under Essay Collections. Where possible, however, references have been grouped by Buddhist school or the specific topic under discussion.

General Overviews

The texts in this section offer a general perspective on Buddhist-Christian dialogue. Lai and Brück 2001 is historical, outlining how Buddhist-Christian dialogue has developed in a variety of contexts across the globe. Cobb 1982 is a seminal contribution to the field and makes an excellent argument for the value of Buddhist-Christian dialogue and how one might go forward with such an endeavor.

  • Cobb, John B., Jr. Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982.

    John B. Cobb Jr. is one of the pioneers in the field of Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and thus this book, while dated, is still an excellent contribution to the field. Cobb puts Buddhism and Christianity in dialogue, specifically around the interpretation of nirvana, seeking to demonstrate how the conversation enriches both.

  • Lai, Whalen, and Michael von Brück. Christianity and Buddhism: A Multicultural History of Their Dialogue. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001.

    The value of this book is that it gives an overview of the state of the conversation and the methodologies used in six very different contexts—India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Germany, and the United States—including the particular problems and issues that are emphasized in each.

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