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Facing Up To Real Doctrinal Difference

Facing Up To Real Doctrinal Difference

How Some Thought-Motifs from Derrida Can Nourish The Catholic-Buddhist Encounter

By Robert Magliola

224 pp

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“Buddhist scholar and Catholic theologian Robert Magliola makes the convincing claim that an adaptation of some of Derrida’s strategies makes it possible for Christians to affirm the positive role of Buddhist spiritual practices and teachings.”


OSB, consultore, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (Vatican)

“A new approach based not on samenesses but on ‘founding and irreducible’ differences.”


coordinator, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, Italy

“A substantial achievement. Robert Magliola is radical as well as profoundly faithful to his own Catholic background.”


professor of Catholic theology, University of Bristol, U.K.

“Robert Magliola is one of the great scholars of Derrida and Buddhism. This new book presents a philosophical foundation for understanding how Catholics can learn and receive from the differences of Buddhism.”


professor of philosophy emeritus, Purdue University

“This book will be a key tool in grassroots Buddhist-Christian relations.”


SA, director, Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, N.Y.

“Robert Magliola has brought to fulfillment a long path of formation in meditation under the guidance of recognized Buddhist masters in Asia and America. I certify that [he] is qualified to teach meditation [to Catholic clergy, Religious, laity] as transmitted in Zen and in other Oriental modes.”


SX, director, Vangelo e Zen, Xaverian Fathers, Italy

“Your approach to articulating edifying differences using Derridean deconstruction embodies many of the dialogue principles that have motivated the Courtyard [of the Gentiles: Cortile dei Gentili].”


president, Pontifical Council for Culture, the Vatican

“Magliola’s valuable contribution is this: With help from Derrida to better understand both themselves and each other, Catholics and Buddhists are provided with the resources for true encounter, with all the surprises that follow when the cubes—those of their own traditions, of their joint explorations, even of Magliola’s book itself—refuse to close up.”


former executive director, Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical & Cultural Research, MN

"This intriguing study offers a bold thesis that adapting the Derridean concept of difference within a Catholic framework can allow adept practitioners of both Buddhist and Catholic traditions to edify each other while acknowledging their radical difference. This avoids the temptation to relativism and superficial syncretism that so often infects pluralist accounts of dialogue.... Magliola’s hope is that the Catholic tradition may be able to develop further doctrinal understandings in an Asian manner, analogously to its earlier developments which adapted Hellenistic thought forms.”


Professor of Theology emeritus, St. Bonaventure University (NY), Catholic Books Review, March 15, 2015

"Even for any Catholic not versed in interreligious dialogue or comparative theology, Magliola still offers up a nuanced analysis and appraisal of the Buddhist tradition, all while proffering a careful and articulate defense of his own interpretation of an ‘orthodox’ theology of religions. . . . Indeed, anyone interested in Catholic theology in general will be able to find at least one idea (whether fascinating or challenging) that will be immediately applicable to one’s own theological inquiry.”


Journal of Comparative Theology, (Harvard Divinity School), Aug. 5, 2015

"Robert Magliola is a pilgrim figure, rooted in Carmelite piety and in Buddhist meditation, whose background in literary studies and in postmodernist critical theory makes him a very distinctive voice in Buddhist-Christian dialogue. His book Derrida on the Mend (Purdue University Press, 1984) was the first full-scale confrontation of Derrida's deconstruction with the Madhyamaka philosophy of Nagarjuna. His next book, On Deconstructing Life-Worlds (Scholars Press of American Academy of Religion, 1997; Oxford U.P., 2000), gave his exploration a personal, existential inflection, and also connected it with Trinitarian theology as refined by Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Florence. His new book, Facing Up to Real Doctrinal Difference, despite its monitory title, is no less path-breaking and thought-provoking than its predecessors, and it will encourage many to renew their engagement with Buddhist-Catholic dialogue.”


Japan Mission Journal, (Vol. 69, No. 3 [Autumn 2015], pp. 185-189)

“Magliola shows himself to be a deeply read and sharply analytical theologian. In his second annex he gives intriguing examples of how his appropriation of Derrida might work in adapting Asian models of thinking, such as impersonality and non-entitativeness, to Christian conceptions of the being of God and the efficacity of grace. . . . Magliola deserves praise for reminding us so insistently that the two traditions, as things stand, are mutually incommensurable yet communicable: radically different, radically the same. This is no mean achievement. . . . this important book deserves to be widely read and debated among all who have Buddhist-Christian relations at heart.”


Trinity College (Ire.); Monash U., U. of Divinity, and Australian Catholic U. (Aus.), Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 35 (2015)

Robert Magliola’s exposition of Buddhist teachings and practices in Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana has been approved by Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, president, Buddhist Publishing Society (1988–2010), Sri Lanka; and Venerable Dr. Dhammadipa (Fa Yao), abbot, Chuang Yen Monastery, N.Y.

Praise for previous books:

From Jacques Derrida’s letter, July 6, 1997, to Robert Magliola, regarding Magliola’s book On Deconstructing Life-Worlds (1997): “What a magnificent book!... Your profundity, your boldness, and your independence amaze and impress me.”

For Magliola’s Derrida on the Mend (1984):

“The reader will find, as I do, this enterprise not only original and bold, but plausible and extraordinarily illuminating.”


professor of philosophy, University of Paris; distinguished professor of philosophy and theology, University of Chicago

“A brilliant and dynamic cross-cultural analysis. In the section on Madhyamika Buddhism he has drawn from a range of Buddhist scholarship to translate with remarkable clarity the spirit of devoidness as articulated by the Indian Buddhist Nagarjuna.”


professor of the history of religions (Oriental/Occidental), graduate center for religious studies, Southern Methodist University; Buddhologist; translator of Nagarjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

About the Author

Robert Magliola (Ph.D. Princeton University), formerly chair professor, National Taiwan University and professor of philosophy/religious studies, Assumption University (Thailand), has authored three earlier books—all widely reviewed—and many articles in hermeneutics, Derrida, and religion. A Carmelite lay tertiary, he is affiliated with the Vangelo e Zen community (Italy) and Ling Jiou Shan’s Buddhist Center (N.Y.).

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