In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Buddhist Interreligious and Intrareligious Dialogue

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • General Overviews
  • Journals/Magazines
  • Descriptive Studies of Buddhist Attitudes to Other Religions
  • Contemporary Interreligious Dialogue by High-Profile International Spiritual Leaders
  • Contemporary Intra-Buddhist Alliances and Dialogues

Buddhism Buddhist Interreligious and Intrareligious Dialogue
Rachel Pang
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0274


Buddhism has had a long history of interaction with non-Indic cultures and religions since it began to spread throughout Asia over two millennia ago. As Buddhism adapted to different societies, Buddhists inevitably incorporated aspects of philosophy and culture from those societies. Historical Buddhist engagement with different religions, cultures, and philosophies may be considered a form of interreligious exchange or dialogue. Contemporary Buddhist interreligious dialogue, however, is a modern phenomenon with roots in the Christian interfaith movements beginning in the late 19th century. The Roman Catholic Church’s revised inclusivist position toward non-Christian religions after Vatican II further encouraged interreligious dialogue between Catholics and individuals of other religions. Because of its Christian roots in Europe and America, many examples of contemporary interreligious dialogue exist within the framework of Christian theology. This includes the majority of contemporary Buddhist-Christian dialogue initiatives. Still, much better known than the interreligious dialogue that occurs in academic and theological circles are the high-profile interreligious initiatives of spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Desmond Tutu, and Thomas Merton. Another source of interreligious dialogue has resulted from the encounter of people from different religions in the multicultural societies of Asia and North America. Many of these collaborations involve women and socially engaged Buddhists. In some contexts, interreligious dialogue is used as a means of fostering peace between different communities who have historically been in conflict with one another. Finally, the available literature on interreligious dialogue in academic books and scholarly journals reflects only a fraction of the landscape of contemporary interfaith dialogue. Newspaper articles, newsletters, and websites describe a plethora of interreligious initiatives that have yet to be discussed in academia. A note on the terminology within this article. The terms “interfaith” and “interreligious” are used interchangeably in popular parlance and in Oxford Bibliographies. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the terms “interfaith” and “interreligious” have specific meanings in Protestant and Roman Catholic theology. In this article, the word “interreligious” is used to denote interactions between people of different religions. The author would like to thank Cara Evanson and Joe Gutekanst of Davidson College Library for assisting her in locating and accessing sources on this topic. She would also thank the anonymous reviewer for excellent suggestions on improving this bibliography entry.

Reference Works

Although different religions have been interacting with one another since time immemorial, “interfaith dialogue” or “interreligious dialogue” is a contemporary phenomenon with roots in the Christian interfaith movements of the late 19th century. Moreover, although the terms “interreligious” and “interfaith” are often used interchangeably in popular parlance, they have specific meanings within Christian theology. Wesley Ariarajah identifies the differing role of the Church in the Roman Catholic and Protestant theological orientations as the main reason that accounts for the different usage of the terms. Whereas the Protestant theological tradition emphasizes the importance of personal faith, the Roman Catholic Church maintains the importance of the Church. Thus, Protestants prefer to use the term “interfaith” while Roman Catholics prefer “interreligious” to describe Christian relations with other faiths. Cornille 2013 and Meister 2011 provide background and context about the intersection of Buddhism and contemporary interreligious conversations.

  • Cornille, Catherine, ed. The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Inter-Religious Dialogue. New York: John Wiley, 2013.

    Edited by the leading experts in the field of interreligious dialogue, this Wiley-Blackwell Companion gives an overview of the background, history, objectives, and discourses related to interfaith dialogue. The volume includes over twelve major religions, of which Buddhism is one. This is an invaluable source for situating Buddhist interfaith dialogue and inter-sectarian relationships within the larger field of interfaith and interreligious studies.

  • Meister, Chad, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    This volume contains thirty-three articles written by the leading experts in their respective fields about religious diversity. The book is interdisciplinary in scope, providing a variety of perspectives on how different religions have interacted and continue to interact with one another. This text provides a bird’s eye view of how Buddhist interactions with religious diversity relate to other religions’ interactions with religious diversity.

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