At the frontier of Christian-Buddhist Dialogue

“Sophia Lectures” with Donald W. Mitchell

May 16, 2014: meeting with Donald W. Mitchell, professor emeritus of Asiatic and comparate Philosophy of Purdue University (Indiana - USA). A life course in interreligious dialogue.


Donald Mitchell


“At the end of the academic year, it is particularly significant for the IUS to be welcoming  prof. Donald Mitchell for the ‘Sophia Lectures’.” Thus spoke Paolo Frizzi, first research doctor with a study on interreligious dialogue. “It is in fact, a special year, – he continued – for the perspectives that have opened up in this sector of studies. We have, as of a few months ago, started a new course with various facets on Theology of religions and of interreligious dialogue, opening up an original interdisciplinary research proposal. No more than two months ago the IUS has welcomed two Buddhist delegations from Thailand and Japan. Here we are then, to proceed with the exploration of a new frontier of great current value”.


There were more than 150 interested and committed people, and a few lines were not enough to describe  the intense life journey and the high profile commitments of professor Mitchell: from the discovery of zen meditation to the rapprochement to the Catholic Church, until the encounter with the spirituality of the Focolare Movement and with Chiara Lubich, in Loppiano itself.  


Professor emeritus at Purdue University, in Indiana, Mitchell received his doctoral degree at the  University of Hawaii in Asiatic and comparate philosophy as his main teaching subject matter, specializing already in the 70’s in Buddhism, Christianity and on the Buddhist-Christian dialogue, in an historical moment when dialogue was being used ever more as a priviliged method of interreligious encounter. From that moment onwards he put his experience and competencies at the service of numerous realities taking place in this sphere.


During the years his activities have brought him to the highest level of qualifications, as a most esteemed consultant, and to the promotion of important international Christian-Buddhist talks,  clinching relationships with  prestigious representatives of various areas of Buddhism . Among these: Gishin Tokiwa, professor of Zen Buddhism in Japan and president della  the F.A.S. Society, founded by Shin'ichi Hisamatsu, in whose story and thought he found deep kinship, and in the walk and spirit of Lubich and the focolare Mov.   The meetings and dialogues with Keiji Nishitani, one of the most famous Japanese philosophers of the 20th century, as with many others, including the Dalai Lama have been encounters characterized by true sintony.


He has been a counsellor for the Pontifical Interreligious dialogue Council: founder of the society for Buddhist Christian Studies; director of the International Buddhist Christian Theological Encounter; director of the International magazine Buddhist Christian Studies as well as writer of numerous articles and essays.  On a journey, then, that has been marked with a specific footprint the meeting between religious faiths, until giving them the words “dialogue of love.”


The wise balance characterizing the scientific production of prof. Mitchell, between the theological challenge and experience in the field, has seemed to us a notable and original aspect: what is at times lacking in literature, in fact, and in interreligious debates is that very balance that is essential for those who wish to understand what it truly means to meet with the other.


In this light, from the very first opening lines of his talk, it was obvious how  interreligious dialogue, to which  make echo current, serious conflicts, and situations,  rather brings with it, contrarily, great potential for peace and social and spiritual progress, so long as  - as has been stated some time ago by  card. Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue – “it becomes patrimony of all and not only of an élite”.


“My hope – concluded the professor – is that lay religious movements of today, of all religions, with many shared values, could collaborate in building a single human family, taking care of children and of nature. Chiara Lubich wrote: ‘Be a family.’  I think we need to see in this a prophetic call.”


Text: Francesco Chatel
in collaboration with Paolo Frizzi




Biografical Notes


He received his doctorate in Asian and Comparative Philosophy at the University of Hawaii, in 1971 and has specialized in Buddismo, Buddhist – Christian studies, Buddhist – Christian Dialogue.


He is professor Emeritus of Asian and Comparative Philosophy at Purdue University (USA); editor of the review Claritas: Journal of Dialogue and Culture; co-director of Interfaith Committee of the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers from 2003; Advisor for Interfaith Dialogue, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City, from 1995 to 2002; Advisor for Interfaith Dialogue, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, from 1993; Founding Member, for Society of Buddhist Christian Studies from 1987; Advisor for Interfaith Dialogue, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1984; Director, International Buddhist Christian Theological Encounter, 1996-2003; Associate Editor, Buddhist Christian Studies, from 1988 to 1999.


Among his publications, are numerous articles and specialized reviews in some books: Spirituality and Emptiness: The Dynamics of Spiritual Life in Buddhism and Christianity, New York, Paulist Press, 1991; In Italian: Kenosis and Nothing Absolute: dynamic of spiritual life in Buddhism and in Christianity, Rome, Citta Nuova, 1993; The Gethsemani Encounter: A Diologue on the Spiritual Life by Buddhist and Christian Monastics, New York, Continuum Press, 1997 (Edited with James Wiseman, O.S.B.);Masao Abe: A Zen Life of Dialogue, Boston, Charles E. Tuttle, 1998 (Editor); Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience, Third Edition, New York, Oxford University Press, 2014.


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