Theological and Philosophical Conversations between Islam and Buddhism

HumboldtInternational Workshop: Theological and Philosophical Conversations between Islam and Buddhism

Berlin Institute of Islamic Theology, 18 June 2021


Although interreligious dialogue and comparative studies between various religious traditions have been well established over several decades, theological and philosophical conversations between Islam and Buddhism are still in the early stages. The encounter between Muslims and Buddhists has been often overshadowed by misunderstandings, negative images and biases, what also partly explains the lack of interest in theological dialogue between the two religions. From the viewpoint of Islamic theology, Buddhism is predominantly conceived as atheism due to the absence of the concept of a creator God or regarded as idolatry in which the decorated buddha statues are worshipped; whereas the Islamic notion of God as an omniscient and omnipotent creator is commonly seen as an unbridgeable gap on the side of Buddhism. The Buddhist concepts of anātman (non-self) and śūnyatā (emptiness), the theory of rebirth, the Islamic doctrine of prophethood constitute further fundamental differences that are regarded as irreconcilable by members of these religions. In this field of tension, the planned workshop aims to contribute to that underdeveloped branch of comparative studies. It will thus bring three central tenets of Islam and Buddhism into a comparative conversation, giving also room to academic insider perspectives.

The workshop will investigate three themes—i.e. the concept of God/reality, the nature of human existence and the transformation of self through religious practice—from Islamic and Buddhist perspectives respectively. Within the scope of the workshop, the issues in question will be discussed by both Muslim and Buddhist scholars and experts on Islamic and Buddhist philosophies. It is thereby aimed to find similarities in theological and philosophical teachings of these traditions regarding the conceptions of reality and human beings, despite the well-known differences in certain respects. To draw attention to similarities in the doctrines of Islam and Buddhism might provide furthermore a fruitful common ground for reciprocal appreciation and give both traditions an opportunity to reinterpret the practices and beliefs of their own religion in the light of a new perspective.

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