The Spirit of Contradiction in Christianity and Buddhism

The Spirit of Contradiction in Christianity and Buddhism



This book examines the role of social identity processes in the development of two counterintuitive religious concepts. The first of these is the Christian claim that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, a concept which forms the basis of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. The second is the Buddhist doctrine of No-self, the claim that the personality is reducible to its impersonal physical and psychological constituents. Both doctrines are massively counterintuitive in the sense that they violate the default expectations that human beings spontaneously make about basic categories of things in the world. The book argues that the development of counterintuitive doctrines like No-self and consubstantiality can be understood in terms of the social psychological principle that, all things being equal, members of a group will seek to maximize the contrast with the dominant out-group. The Christian doctrine of consubstantiality was the product of the effort of “pro-Nicene” Christians of the fourth century to maximize, over against their “Arian” rivals, the contrast with Christianity’s archetypal “other,” Judaism. In a similar way, the book argues, the Buddhist doctrine of No-self may have been motivated by an effort to maximize, over against the “Personalist” (Pudgalavāda) schools of Buddhist thought, the contrast with Brahmanical Hinduism, defined by its concept of an unchanging and eternal self or ātman.



Publication Date



Oxford University Press


New York, USA


Buddhism, Buddha, Mysticism, Religion, Religion--philosophy


Buddhist Studies | Christianity | Ethics in Religion | Religion

The Spirit of Contradiction in Christianity and Buddhism