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  • Whitney Houston's funeral service really took the world to church. Love Pastor Winans' honesty, very moving.

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At the end of this month, the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT) will launch The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values. The Dalai Lama will be in attendance. (Learn more about the Dalai Lama on


The center will explore the meaning and moral purpose of life from a Buddhist perspective. MIT also hopes the center will encourage interfaith understanding.


Learn more about MIT’s plans online.


Find more interfaith dialogue opportunities.


Copyright 2009, Religion Transcends.


Recently, a spotlight has been placed on religious leaders in the Episcopalian denomination, some of whom have adopted beliefs of religions other than Christianity. Accusations of syncretism and pluralism may force some religious leaders out of the priesthood – one in particular could be forced out this week.

What is syncretism?

Syncretism is the merging of multiple religions or faiths into one worldview or belief system. This may include the practice of multiple religions and associated rituals; it may also include a blending of beliefs.

According to, syncretism is common in Asia. And Americans are used to cafeteria-style religion where they select the beliefs and practices that work for their worldviews and lifestyles.

But does syncretism cause a believer to dilute core beliefs so much that they no longer uniquely believe in any one religion or idea? If so, can they really call themselves a follower of any religion? And how can competing claims be reconciled? For example, traditional Jewish believes show Jesus as a regular man, while Christians consider him the Messiah, Son of God. The Episcopalian Church, a Christian denomination, is currently struggling publicly with these issues.

Syncretism in the Episcopal pulpit

Ann Holmes Redding is an Episcopal priest in Seattle who practices both Islam and Christianity. She believes she can practice both – but Rhode Island Episcopal Bishop Geralyn Wolf (Redding’s superior) wants to remove Redding’s status as a priest. Wolf argues that Redding has abandoned Christianity by converting to Islam and suspended her priesthood in 2008.  According to USA Today, Redding was supposed to recant her Islamic faith by March 30 or she would be expelled from the priesthood. No word yet on whether she recanted – but she told newspapers last year that she had no intention of recanting.

Like Redding, Elected Episcopal Bishop Kevin Thew Forrester (of the Northern Michigan diocese) practices Zen meditation and is lay-ordinated in Buddhism. He has not, however, taken Buddhist vows nor does he consider himself a Buddhist. He claims to simply borrow practices from Zen Buddhism to guide his Christian meditation on God. But many Episcopalians are trying to prevent Forrester from becoming fully ordained as bishop. No word yet on whether he will get all 120 votes necessary to move from election to ordination.

Find other examples of syncretistic religious leaders at

A move toward pluralism?

If multiple beliefs are fully believed – in other words, if one really does consider himself fully Christian and fully Muslim – this is the idea of pluralism. Pluralism implies that a diversity of beliefs and practices are fully adopted and accepted. This is much different from the typical exclusivist attitude of many religions, in which that particular religion is believed to be the only way to the goal. Pluralism implies that multiple religions can lead to the same goal.

So will the Episcopal denomination move toward pluralism? Christianity Today suggests it wouldn’t be a surprise if they at least discussed it. The magazine quoted Wade Clark Roof, religious studies professor at UC-Santa Barbara, as saying:

“Clearly there are people, including religious leaders, [who find] spiritual wisdom in faiths other than their own…(which is) in some respects good in an age of global religious diversity when tolerance and respect are essential to our peace if not our survival.”

Church leaders seem to worry the focus on Jesus as Savior would be lost in a pluralistic faith. So it doesn’t seem likely Episcopalians will all become pluralists anytime soon.

See what else Christianity Today has to say about America’s shift toward religious pluralism and the “crisis” in the Episcopalian church.

Copyright 2009, Religion Transcends.

The following overview of Buddhism was written by Religion Transcends writer Jackie Walker for the Summer 2008 issue of Relate magazine. Relate’s mission is to inspire teen girls to pursue their dreams with confidence and to teach them to be an example for others in their speech, life, love, faith and purity. Religion overviews may have Christian overtones to make the content relatable for the Christian teen audience.


He was a round, bald man, swathed in a delicate robe and usually depicted laughing and holding food or possessions. But the Buddha wasn’t always so rotund. Though portions of his life were filled with comforts, other times found him leading the life of an ascetic, one who denies himself material possessions. Eventually, that simple existence led him to discover a way out of the cycle of suffering and death – and to start a worldwide religion. So who was this man who sparked a following? And what do his followers believe?


The life of Buddha

In 563 B.C. in northern India, a royal couple gave birth to a son they named Siddartha Guatama. He lived a life of luxury, enjoying three palaces, a wife, and a son. According to legend, after seeing four people alongside a road, ill or dead, he began to ponder suffering. Kissing his family goodbye, he set out to find a way to eliminate suffering. After studying Hinduism, he began to live the life of an ascetic. At one point, he was eating only one grain of rice a day. Skinny and weak, he realized extreme asceticism would not relieve his suffering either.


One day he began meditating under a tree in Bodh Gaya, India. There he achieved a “Great Awakening,” where it is said the earth shook and he was moved into a state of bliss, suddenly understanding the universe and its cycle of suffering. Once able to eliminate what led to his suffering, he became “enlightened” or freed from the cycle of death. In that state, he took the name of “Buddha” (“enlightened one”) and began a ministry that lasted 45 years until his death at the age of 80.


A religion is born

Buddha gained a following soon after his enlightenment. Today, that following has grown to 365 million people, making Buddhism the fourth largest religion in the world (after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism). Most Buddhist beliefs can be found in the Tripitaka, three sacred texts that together are 11 times the size of the Bible.


Many Buddhist beliefs stem from four ideas Buddha obtained during his own path to enlightenment; these are called the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life is suffering.
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment or desire for something.
  3. One can end suffering by overcoming craving, thus reaching nirvana.
  4.  One must follow an eight-fold path in order to achieve nirvana or enlightenment.

 The Eight-Fold Path is a treatment path that requires discipline:

  1. Right belief
  2. Right intention
  3. Right speech
  4. Right behavior
  5. Right occupation (choosing a livelihood that allows you to seek enlightenment)
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness (being aware of what you want to achieve)
  8. Right concentration

 Other beliefs include the following:

  • Rebirth: Your “self” is reborn, or reincarnated, into a new person after your death.
  • God: There is no higher power. Each person must find relief from suffering on her own.
  • Karma: Good actions create good consequences, and bad actions cause negative consequences.

Divisions and developments

These basic beliefs may differ by group or place. Just as there are denominations in Christianity, there are also several divisions in Buddhism.


Theravada Buddhism is mostly found in Southeast Asia. It is mainly restricted to monks who wear robes and shave their heads. Some consider it to be more conservative, focusing on discipline, strict rules, and asceticism (denying themselves life’s pleasures, just as Guatama Buddha did). Mahayana Buddhism is found mostly in Northern Asia and is open to all people. Its followers believe in compassion and devotion to the Buddha. Here, Guatama Buddha is seen as more divine and may be worshipped in some way. In Vajrayana Buddhism, chanting and rituals seem to be the most important practices, and some Vajrayana Buddhists believe in a spirit world.


As Buddhism spread through different parts of Asia, it took on some of the cultural practices of those countries, creating further divisions. Zen Buddhism traces its roots to China and Japan; it focuses on discipline and meditation and suggests that anyone could obtain enlightenment suddenly, out of nowhere. Tibetan Buddhism developed in India and Tibet. Its leader is called the Dalai Lama (“wisdom teacher”) and serves as both Tibet’s head of state and as its spiritual leader. However, it is important to note that Tibet is under Chinese rule and that, after attempting to overthrow the Chinese government in 1959, the Dalai Lama was exiled to Dharamsala, India, where he still lives today.


To learn more about the Dalai Lama, visit To learn about some of the differences between Christianity and Buddhism, check out The Lotus and the Cross by Ravi K. Zacharias. Find news and holiday information related to Buddhism on


Copyright 2009, Religion Transcends.

The 2008 Olympic Games are long over. Though the media spotlight has moved on, tension between Tibet and China remains. And today, it got worse.


If you’re unaware of the tribulations that have befallen Tibetan refugees since 1959, get up to speed on before reading further.


Breaking news

March 10, 2009, marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s uprising and revolt. The Dalai Lama escaped to India on March 17, 1959 – so as you can imagine, this is an important month for Tibetan Buddhists in exile. Last week, a monk set himself on fire to protest China’s rule. And this week,  monks in Sichuan province in China staged a rally. As a result, the monastery is currently being surrounded by Chinese security forces, according to The monastery is on lockdown. reports that “the Dalai Lama has accused Chinese authorities of trying to provoke Tibetans into demonstrating to justify a huge crackdown.”


Similar protests and crackdowns happened at this time last year. Of course, it is difficult to get accurate information from Chinese media. Stay tuned to for the most updated information on this situation.


Copyright 2009, Religion Transcends.