Zum Inhalt springen

The Buddha, the Dharma and Me: The Rise of the Individual in Modern Buddhism. Secularism and Superstition (2/2)

Panel Chair: Victor Sōgen Hori | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Since the mid-19th century Buddhism has been reshaped as a result of its encounter with Western imperialism, Christian missionaries, and the globalization of Enlightenment ideas such as the development of the idea of “religions”. Among the effects of this encounter, Buddhism has been rephrased as a religion of the individual with a primacy placed on experience, (e.g. D.T. Suzuki). The accompanying secularization of Buddhism casts it as a practice or spirituality compatible with other religions. Claims elevate this invention of the Buddhist tradition as more faithful to the Buddha’s intent, accompanied by an imperative to untangle Buddhism from superstitious “folk practices/beliefs”. The World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 showcased Buddhism as scientific, and therefore uniquely modern. This panels will address the question of how the re-phrasing of Buddhism as a religion of the individual has transformed the tradition and how it is being globalized.

John S. Harding

Meiji Individualism: Modern Means and Ambivalent Aims

Meiji Buddhists’ strategies and representations of their tradition are illustrative of a broader intensification in the connections between the modern, the global, and the individual. This paper builds on Raphaël Liogier’s innovative theories of “individuo-globalism” and religion as well as David McMahan’s insights about secularism and spirituality as related modes that offer modern universals in opposition to pre-modern superstitions. Meiji case studies reveal individualistic, modern ways Buddhism was defended, promoted, and represented by a diverse cast shaped by shared influences. Meiji appeals, both to secular science and to spirituality, frame Buddhism as a live option for modern times unencumbered by superstition. However, an exploration of individual cases—Buddhists who traveled the world and figures, including Kiyozawa Manshi, who were shaped by global discourses while remaining in Japan—reveal tensions and oscillations. Some appeals to science, philosophy, and spirituality posited all embracing universals; others fueled religious polemics.

Jessica L. Main

Which One of You is Socially Engaged? Imagining Rational Buddhist Institutions and Volunteer Buddhists in Prewar Japan

A socially engaged Buddhist is a specific kind of modern Buddhist individual. Yet, the socially engaged “mode” exists in tension with other trends in Buddhist modernism, namely the trend towards a privatized spirituality which, in some iterations, is “thoroughly accommodated to the consumerist, materialist, capitalist culture” (McMahan 2009, 253). Buddhist social workers (shakai jigyōsha) and “Society Departments” (Shakaika) from Interwar Japan (1918-1939), articulated a modern Buddhist individual that rejected private spirituality and accomodation to the status quo. Examining the publications of these early socially engaged Buddhists and administrative units, we see that the ideal individual favors a vocation of social work and volunteers to perform this work as a “generic” Buddhist, recognizing no difference in moral value between the sympathizer, lay follower, or priest. Moreover, this individual acts in the secular sphere in order to benefit society as a whole, and prefers scientific activities and institutions while denouncing superstitious ritual.

Alexander Soucy

Buddhism for Youth: Zen and the Modern Individual in Vietnam

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, interest in Zen has drastically increased in Vietnam. This re-invented Zen places a strong emphasis on individual experience and a secularised practice, mirroring many of the understandings of Zen that were developed by Japanese reformers and were popularised in the West by figures like D.T. Suzuki. Vietnamese proponents in the 1960s, like Thích Nhất Hạnh and Thích Thiên Ân, then re-introduced it to the West as traditional Vietnamese Zen. This new Zen is now attracting followers in Vietnam from constituencies that had previously shown no interest in Buddhism. In particular, young people are starting to practice Zen because they see it as distinct from the devotionalism of their grandmothers. This paper will trace the roots of this new movement and examine the role that the modern pairing of Zen and the individual has had in attracting young people to Buddhism in contemporary Hanoi.

André van der Braak

Buddhism and Individualization: Charles Taylor and Buddhism in the West

In his work, the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor describes a steadily increasing emphasis on a religion of personal commitment and devotion, over against forms centered on collective ritual. The three developments in contemporary religion that he describes (universalization, individualization and psychologization) have also influenced the Western engagement with Buddhism in the twentieth and twenty-first century. This paper will argue that the reception of Buddhism in the West has been subjected to what Taylor calls “cross pressures within the immanent frame”. Western-style Buddhism has become a participant in the three-cornered battle that Taylor describes between exclusive humanists, anti-humanists, and believers in transcendence, leading to the tendencies of excarnation and therapeutization of religion, and a neglect of ordinary life. This paper analyzes this process, and investigates to what extent a more inclusive Buddhist spirituality is also possible that could counterbalance these trends.


B  C  D 
E  F  G  H 
I  J  K  L 
M  N  O  P 
Q  R  T 
U      V      W     XYZ 


A  B  C  D 
E  F  G  H 
I  J  K  L 
M  N  O  P 
Q  R  S  T 
U      V      W     XYZ 


Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)