The elephant in the room: Buddhist religious exclusivism and prospects for covenantal pluralism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Buddhism today is usually regarded as a religion of peace, compassion, and tolerance. When we consider Buddhist history on the whole, this is an accurate evaluation. It has peacefully coexisted with other religions. It has a number of doctrines which promote a highly tolerant attitude toward the religious other. However, this chapter challenges some of the commonplace romanticized and unrealistic narratives about Buddhism’s unlimited relativism/inclusivism. The chapter points out that contemporary thin notions of “tolerance” are not actually found in the Pāli canon of Theravāda Buddhism. On the contrary, when we consider the Buddhist encounter with the religious other we discover an exclusivist elephant in the room which interprets Buddhism as the highest religious tradition, with the best evaluation of the truth. The chapter then discusses an example of extreme Buddhism from modern Myanmar that demonstrates a rhetoric of intolerance, far removed from the popular understanding of Buddhism. The chapter argues nonetheless that there are realistic prospects for a Buddhist covenantal pluralism—that is, a Buddhism that peacefully and respectfully defends its own truth claims, without sliding into anti-pluralist dispositions such as religious nationalism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Religious Literacy, Pluralism and Global Engagement
EditorsChris Seiple, Dennis R. Hoover
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781003036555
ISBN (Print)9780367478025
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2021

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks


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