To See a World in a Flower / 一花一世界:分形理论视角下的佛耶对话
A Fractal Interpretation of the Relation between Buddhism and Christianity
Beijing: Zong jiao wen hua chu ban she (Religious Culture Publishing House) 2020
Religious Studies scholar and theologian Perry Schmidt-Leukel’s theory that religious diversity displays fractal patterns is at the center of his recent book “To See a World in a Flower”. The book exemplifies the theory by an analysis of the typological differences between Buddhism and Christianity. It is based on five lectures which Schmidt-Leukel held in Beijing in 2017 on the invitation of the Minzu University. The book, published in Beijing, contains the lectures in English and in Chinese translation.
“The basic idea of a fractal interpretation of religious diversity consists in the theory that the major differences between religions reappear as differences between different manifestations within each one of them,” explains Schmidt-Leukel. “In this book, I demonstrate how this theory applies to the relation between Buddhism and Christianity.”
New Light on the Relation between Buddhism and Christianity
Schmidt-Leukel examines four major differences by which traditionally Buddhism and Christianity have been typologically distinguished: a world-renouncing versus a world-affirming spirituality, an impersonal versus a personal conception of ultimate reality, the image of the central mediator as an awakened teacher versus a divine incarnation, and finally the understanding of the path of salvation as a path of self-help versus one of other-help. By looking more closely at the internal diversity of the two traditions, Schmidt-Leukel shows that each of the four distinctions can also be applied to sub-traditions and religious ideas within each of the two religions. “This observation,” says Schmidt-Leukel, “sheds a completely different light on the relation between the two traditions and forces us to raise new and different theological questions. Because now we need to examine why such similar difference could develop within these two different traditions.”
From Dialogue to Interreligious Theology
“According to the fractal interpretation, religions are neither all the same nor are they incommensurably different. Instead they resemble each other precisely in their internal diversity,” says Schmidt-Leukel. “In the past, Buddhism and Christianity have often been presented as antagonistic and irreconcilable. But in recent decades an intensive dialogue between Buddhists and Christians has developed, which regards both religions as complementary. By getting a better understanding of the structural analogies between them, the sense of an inner complementarity between some of the major differences may considerably deepen. Exploring this aspect is part of what I call interreligious theology.”
According to Schmidt-Leukel, China – due to its long experience of dealing constructively with religious diversity – is a fertile ground for interreligious theology. Schmidt-Leukel has published several articles in Chinese journals. His book “Transformation by Integration: How Inter-faith Encounter Changes Christianity” has been published in Chinese translation in 2017 as Tōng guò zhěng hé zoǔ xiàng zhuǎn huà. A Chinese edition of his 2015 Gifford-Lectures “Religious Pluralism and Interreligious Theology” is forthcoming with Religious Culture Publishing House. (exc)
To See a World in a Flower: A Fractal Interpretation of the Relation between Buddhism and Christianity, Beijing: Zong jiao wen hua chu ban she (Religious Culture Publishing House) 2020.