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‘Monasticism without Walls’: Addressing the Dynamics of Inter-Contextual Transfers

Panel Chair: Timon Reichl | Monday, August 24, 9 - 11 a.m. | LG 1 124

This panel explores inter-contextual transfers between monastic and non-monastic discourses in a context of modern religion. Inter-contextual transfers continue to be a vital element in the enormously productive and multifaceted history of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu monastic thought and practice, both within and beyond monastic boundaries: While the history of monastic renewal and adaptation often relied on the creative application of non-monastic resources, monastic perspectives and resources have also served as reference in the context of wider socio-religious issues. The theoretical framework is thus capable of expanding the outlook of monastic studies. Instead of establishing unsurpassable boundaries monastic traditions convey a readiness to engage in creative interactions. Two presentations will address the recent monastic engagement with the issues of religious diversity and modern spirituality, encouraging inter-monastic encounters and monastic renewal. Two further papers will focus on the interactions with secular society, based on field research in Europe and Asia.

Isabelle Jonveaux

The 'Secular Ascetic': Transfers of Monastic Techniques to Secular Society

Monastic life and especially asceticism constitute a set of techniques which all theoretically seek to improve religious life and assist the ‘search of God’. According to Max Weber this form of asceticism is reserved for religious virtuosi elected by God. Today Catholic monasticism in Western Europe is undergoing a crisis of vocations as less and less young people are inclined to enter the monastic life. On the other hand, as a model and source for alternative ways of life, monasticism is increasingly attracting interest in secular society. Based on field inquiries in Catholic monasteries and fasting retreats offered in secular contexts, this paper seeks to explore transfers occurring between monasteries and secular society. In this regard, the emergence of secular forms of asceticism represents an interesting field for studying such transfers, in which the techniques and rhetoric derived from an institutional religion are applied in novel forms of holistic spirituality.

Henry Zimmermann

The Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism: Beholding Itself and Presenting Itself at the Conjunction of Cultural Preservation and Organizational Modernization

Buddhism in contemporary South Korea is primarily represented by the “Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism”, which was established in its present form in 1962 and is heir to the Buddhist tradition of the late Chosŏn dynasty and successor to the Chogye Order of the colonial era. While this large Buddhist organization identifies itself as the principal preserver of Korea’s Sŏn (Zen) orthodoxy, its institutional and legal structures are the product of distinctly modern developments. Interestingly, there have recently been various efforts on the part of the Chogye Order to present not only its religious ideas and practices to the public, but also the inner structure, rules, programs and agenda it officially and ideally adheres to in its capacity as a religious organization. This paper discusses the Chogye Order’s attempts at a favourable and convincing self-presentation in the context of contemporary South Korea’s highly competitive and largely unregulated religious landscape.

Timon Reichl

The ‘Monk as Mystic’: On the Application of ‘Universal Mysticism’ in Catholic Monasticism

This presentation will address some of the inter-contextual dynamics involved in the participation of Catholic monastics in the modern discourse on ‘mysticism’ and ‘mystical experience’. Apart from contributing to the rapidly growing amount of scholarly and popular literature addressing the issue of mysticism in a comparative and/or interreligious perspective, monastics also applied some of the new paradigms emerging in this intercultural and interdisciplinary discourse. This partly stemmed from their efforts to meet a number of challenges that Catholic monasticism was at the time encountering (monastic renewal/crisis, monastic mission/dialogue in Asia). In the course of this development, the new understanding of mysticism as universal and as compatible beyond religious and cultural borders – a prominent feature within the modern discourse on mysticism since the early 20th century (James, Underhill, Stace) – served as the theoretical framework for redefining monastic identity and practice as universal and as applicable beyond cultural and religion specific manifestations.

Alexandra Mann

Monasticism as a Bridge between Religions

The Weltkloster Radolfzell, a former Capuchin monastery, provides a neutral space for encounters between different religions. The dialogue meetings are based on the shared practice and discussion of the respective meditative and contemplative techniques. For some days or even weeks, monks, nuns and clergy of all religious traditions are invited to form a community in which the everyday schedule includes elements from various monastic traditions. This approach is influenced by the tradition of Christian ashrams in India, which combines contemplative community life with a dialogue of spiritualities. The adopted approach is seen as a dialogue among equals and follows a pluralist outlook. Accordingly dialogue and identity are not seen as contradictory but as interdependent: The complete acceptance of diversity is the foundation for a willingness to experiment. Religious identities emerging from such interreligious contexts might then prove to be more sustainable, exchanging static constructs with openness towards external influences.


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