Christian-Buddhist dialogue at Sophia University

Donald W. Mitchell at the Sophia University Institute: a journey of life in interreligious dialogue

“At the end of the academic year, it is particularly significant that the Sophia University Institute (SUI) welcomes for the “Sophia Chair”, Prof. Donald Mitchell, emeritus professor of Asian and Comparative Philosophy from Purdue University (Indiana – USA)”. This was how Paolo Frizzi, the first Doctor of Research to conclude the Doctorate School of Sophia precisely with a study on interreligious dialogue, introduced the evening program on the 16th of May. “It is a special year – he continued – because of the prospects that were opened in this sector of studies. It has been just a few months that we have started a new course with different subjects on Theology of religions and interreligious dialogue, opening up an original interdisciplinary research proposal. And not more than two months ago the SUI welcomed two delegations of Buddhists from Thailand and from Japan. So here we are therefore, to go ahead with the exploration of a horizon of great relevance today”.

On the 16th of May more than 150 interested and involved people were present, and a few witty remarks were not enough to describe the intense journey of life and high level commitments of Prof. Mitchell: from the discovery of zen meditation to his rapprochement with the Catholic Church, up to his encounter with the spirituality of the Focolare and with Chiara Lubich, precisely in Loppiano (near Florence, Italy, where the university is located).

20140531-03Already in the ‘70s, he specialized in Buddhism, Christianity and in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, in a historical moment when dialogue was becoming more and more the preferred method of interreligious encounter; from that moment on he put his experience and expertise at the service of numerous realities working in this field.

Throughout the years, his activities brought him to become qualified in the highest levels, as one of the most respected consultants, and in promoting important international Christian-Buddhist talks, forging relationships with influential exponents from the diverse fields of Buddhism. Among these: Gishin Tokiwa, professor of Zen Buddhism in Japan and president of the F.A.S. Society, founded by Shin’ichi Hisamatsu, whose story and thoughts find profound consonance with the journey and the spirit of Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement. A living harmony also characterized his encounters and dialogue with Keiji Nishitani, one of the most famous Japanese philosophers of the XX century, and with many others, including the Dalai Lama.

The wise equilibrium that characterizes the scientific works of Prof. Mitchell, between the theological challenges and experiences in the field, have revealed an original aspect: that which is more often lacking in fact, in the literature and debates on interreligious relationships, and this is precisely such an equilibrium or balance, essential for those who want to understand what it means to truly encounter the other.

20140531-02In this light, in his work, it is evident how interreligious dialogue, which often, in reality, echo serious situations of conflict, brings with it a great potentiality for peace and social and spiritual progress, as long as – just as Card. Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue affirmed some time ago – “it becomes patrimony of everyone and not just of an elite group”.

“My hope – the professor concluded – is that the lay religious movements today, of all religions, who possess many shared values, can collaborate to build one human family, taking care also of the children and of nature. Chiara Lubich wrote ‘Be a family’. I think that we neeed to see in this a prophetic call”.

Source: Sophia University Institute

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