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Buddhism and Islam

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Published: 26 May 2009

Conference to explore encounters between two of the world's great religions

Conference to explore encounters between two of the world's great religions

Buddhists and Muslims have lived in close proximity to one another for more than a millennium, and have significantly influenced each other's societies. Yet this important historical interaction has received little scholarly attention.

On May 29 and 30, McGill's Faculty of Religious Studies, Institute of Islamic Studies, and Centre for Research on Religion hope to reverse that trend by hosting Buddhism and Islam: Encounters, Histories, Dialogue and Representation. The conference, made possible by the generous support of the philanthropic Numata Foundation, will bring together academics and students from a variety of disciplines in an attempt to shed new light on the shared history of these two important religious traditions.

“Buddhists and Muslims have lived together both peacefully and not-so-peacefully,” said Religious Studies Professor Lara Braitstein, a principal conference organizer. “They have contributed to each other's lives and civilizations in all kinds of ways. In Western, Central, East, South and Southeast Asia, Buddhism and Islam have co-existed for well over 1,000 years. There is so much to learn!”

Western understanding of either of these two traditions does not run deep, but they are nonetheless perceived in very different lights. “These days, Islam is almost always demonized in popular discourse, and Buddhism is almost always idealized,” said Prof. Braitstein.  “It is extremely upsetting to see two-dimensional portrayals of such rich, diverse traditions.”

The conference will explore how Buddhists and Muslims have lived together, the results of their encounters, and what might explain the way they are perceived by each other, and by others. Conference organizers hope not only to produce a volume based on the discussions, but also expect the conference to act as a starting point for opening a whole field of investigation in comparative religious study.

"Clearly this is an area of research just waiting to be explored and expanded," Prof. Braitstein said.

The conference will take place on May 29 and 30, in McGill University’s Leacock and Birks buildings. For a complete program and schedule, please visit http://numata-conference.mcgill.ca.

 

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