The Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies was founded in 1987 in order to continue interactions between Buddhist and Christian scholars and practitioners that began at several large international meetings in the early 1980’s. The late Professor David Chappell organized a two- week long conference in the summer of 1980 at the University of Hawaii, entitled “A Buddhist-Christian Conference on the Future of Humanity,” attended by many of the eventual founders and early leaders of the Society.
In 1984, a subsequent conference a the University of Hawaii inaugurated the “Cobb-Abe International Theological Encounter,” founded by process theologian John B. Cobb, Jr., and Kyoto-school philosopher Masao Abe, in order to engage in sustained dialogue on topics generated by the long friendship between the two founders. For twenty years (1984-2004) the Cobb-Abe group of about forty continued to meet every eighteen months with relatively stable membership selected from principal Buddhist and Christian thought leaders who shaped theological education in Buddhism and Christianity.
In 1987, another large international conference on Buddhist-Christian interchange was held at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. At that meeting, a small group of scholars and practitioners discussed forming a society that could meet annually in North America in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies was born. This small group arranged for a meeting room and time during the 1987 AAR meetings and at that meeting organized a parallel scholarly society co- meeting with the AAR. The first officers were chosen, John B. Cobb, Jr., as President and Rita Gross as Vice President. Two-year terms of office were approved and it was agreed that the vice president would succeed the president. The founding group chose officers, an initial Board, and committees. Immediately, it was agreed that the Society’s by-laws would call for equal numbers of Buddhist and Christian, women and men, Board members and officers. It was agreed that the Society would be independent of the AAR and control its own program, rather than applying to be a section of the AAR, in part because at that time the AAR was not sympathetic to theological dialogue and activities. It was agreed to have two meeting sessions per year, with an emphasis on discussion rather than formal papers to which a passive audience would listen. These policies and guidelines have continued in place from 1987 until the present. Founding members of the Society were:
John B. Cobb, Jr.
Paul O. Ingram