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Buddhist Identities: Method, Theory and Case Studies of Buddhist Diversities (1/2)

A093
Panel Chairs: Cameron David Warner, Stefania Travagnin | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m.

What does it mean to be a Buddhist? How does it relate to other identity markers such as gender, caste, social position, ethnicity, and nationality? As a missionary religion, Buddhists aim to convert others to their way of life, but how is that done? How do you become a Buddhist at an ontological/epistemological level? How do you become a Buddhist from an etic point of view vs. an emic Buddhadharma viewpoint? These panels propose a critical analysis of textual sources and regional contexts of Buddhism and Buddhists, and debate methodological and theoretical approaches for the study of the topic.

Henk Blezer

Foundational Reflections on the Issue of ‘Buddhist Identities’

For my contribution to this panel, I should like to develop ideas and engage methodological reflection on the main concern of this panel proposal: Buddhist identities, from the wider perspectives of the rise of Global Buddhism and the so-called ‘spread’ of Buddhism to or in Tibet and China, and explore how we can usefully reflect on these issues by theorising on models for regional and global development of Buddhism. I should first and foremost like to offer some pre-emptive methodological reflections and general observations. If we wonder, as we obviously do in this panel: “What does it mean to be a Buddhist?”, we have already taken on board several assumptions. In the prelude to my paper, I should like to articulate these systematically.

Jørn Borup

‘I am Buddhist, Not (Really) Religious’ Negotiating Buddhist Identity in a Western Context

Being “a Buddhist” is a subjective identity marker to designate institutional belonging or personal affiliation with certain ideas of practices grounded in “Buddhism”. In an (East) Asian context, where religious diversity is the norm, such affiliation is often part of a syncretic religious reality, where diversity of religions is seldom a challenge for individual practitioners. In the West, Buddhism is a minority religion brought in by immigrants and converts or included as part of an individualized “lifestyle”, and thus often being “something else” that one has to actively choose or (re-)negotiate. This paper discusses Buddhist identity in a Western context. It is argued that, despite fragmentation, hybridization and increased individualization, it is possible to include different kinds of Buddhists (“culture Buddhists”, “spiritual Buddhists”, “Buddhist atheists”, “convert Buddhists” etc.) in a meaningful category of Buddhist identity by means of self-identification and analytical conceptualization. It is furthermore argued that institutional belonging and personal identification is only partly related to a much larger – and less tangible – cultural influence of Buddhism in the West.

Jin Y. Park

Buddhism and Gender Identity: The Cases of Kim Iryŏp and Hiratsuka Raichō

Is Buddhist identity compatible with women’s search for independent identity? Buddhism teaches that there is no permanent essence in a being, and thus gender discrimination is not tenable. However, in the process of woman’s efforts to regain independent identity in a patriarchal society, the idea of no-self could also function as an obstacle since the exertion of one’s own identity might contradict the Buddhist teaching of no-self. This paper examines how this seeming contradiction of Buddhism and women’s identity was resolved in two cases in which Buddhism played a significant role for women to regain their own independent identity. The cases under examination are: Kim Iryŏp (金一葉, 1896-1971), a Korean new woman, writer, and Buddhist nun, and Hiratsuka Raichō (平塚 らいてう, 1886-1971), a Japanese new woman, writer, and activist.

Katarina Plank

White Buddhists: Secular Practices and Identities?

Ever since the Theosophist Olcott travelled to Sri Lanka/Ceylon in 1880 to become a Buddhist by taking the five precepts, “the white Buddhist” has been dominating the discourses on how Buddhism can be interpreted and understood (Prothero 1997). Despite their minority status within Buddhist traditions, the “white Buddhists” emphasis on meditation has come to dominate the understanding of what constitutes “real” Buddhist practice – especially in the West (Cheah 2011). The paper will explore and discuss how different kinds of “white Buddhists” can relate to the numerically largest Buddhist congregation in Sweden, the Thai sangha. By highlighting race/whiteness and gender (Clarke & Garner 2010, Garner 2007, Hübinette 2012), a typology of different kinds of relations will be made, where the often overlooked category of ”Svensson Buddhists” will be explored.

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Sessions

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Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)