Back to listOct 21, 2008

Symposium on Interfaith Dialogue Held at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA

On October 21, 2008, the Multifaith Center of Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA, sponsored a symposium, "East/West in Dialogue: Religious Perspectives on Global Issues in the 21st Century," to commemorate the center's opening. The event was co-hosted by the Wellesley College Office of Religious and Spiritual Life; Education as Transformation Inc.; Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (BRC); and the Institute of Oriental Philosophy (IOP), Japan.

At the outset, Dean Victor Kazanjian of Religious and Spiritual Life at Wellesley College expressed his hopes to work together with IOP and BRC to achieve the shared objective of building a new global community. IOP Director Yoichi Kawada introduced the history and aims of the IOP: to enhance understanding of Eastern religions, conduct research on the Lotus Sutra, and further understanding of Buddhist humanism and pacifism.


The symposium was divided into three sessions and themes: religion and conflict; religion, women and society; and religion and the environment. In session one, Dr. David Bernat, expert on Judaism at Wellesley College, stressed the importance of interpreting sacred scriptures from a humanistic perspective. Dr. Hiroshi Kanno, IOP senior research fellow and director of Soka University's International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, discussed pacifist thought in Buddhism and specifically the story of Bodhisattva Never-Disparaging as he traced the philosophical lineage from Shakyamuni and the Lotus Sutra to Nichiren. Wellesley College Professor James Kodera pointed out that dialogues among diverse religions are needed more than ever in today's world. IOP Research Fellow Mikio Matsuoka emphasized the importance of the humanization of religions.

During the second session, Wellesley College Professor Sharon Elkins spoke about women and religious traditions, remarking that for women "God" serves as a source of life force that imparts the strength to live. IOP Senior Research Fellow Dr. Toshie Kurihara shared her observations on women as represented in the teachings of Shakyamuni, the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren. She also spoke about the current global network and remarkable achievements of SGI women. Wellesley College Associate Professor Neelema Bhatt stressed that Mahatma Gandhi improved the status of women during his struggles for India's independence and concluded that the nonviolence movement furthered the liberation of Hindu women.

In session three, Professor Patricia Mische of Antioch University, Ohio, USA, and IOP Senior Research Fellow Shuichi Yamamoto discussed how to address global issues from the perspectives of western religions and that of Buddhism, respectively.

During the closing session, Dr. Peter Laurence, executive director of the Education as Transformation Project at Wellesley College, commented that sincere dialogue could bridge divisions between people. BRC Executive Director Virginia Straus Benson concluded the symposium by stressing the need to discern if a religion is helpful for empowering women and if it serves people to become stronger, wiser and more compassionate, referencing SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's 2008 peace proposal and his call for the humanization of religion.

[Adapted from an article in the November 7, 2008 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan]