Call for Papers: Buddhism in the Global Eye, August 10-12, 2016, UBC

call for papers [150-2]“Buddhism in the Global Eye: Beyond East and West”

The 6th Annual Tung Lin Kok Yuen Canada Foundation Conference, hosted by the University of British Columbia’s Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society (Jessica L. Main, director) and co-sponsored by The Modernization of Buddhism in Global Perspective Project (SSHRC Insight Grant, John S. Harding, Victor Sōgen Hori, Alexander Soucy, co-investigators).

Abstract submission deadline: January 1, 2016
Conference dates: August 10-12, 2016

This conference has been called to re-examine the widely held assumption that modern Buddhism is Buddhism with Western characteristics and to attempt to map out a better paradigm for explaining the modernization of Buddhism. It takes seriously the concept of globalization: Buddhist transformation in Asia and in the West are not seen as distinct but as related, taking place in communication across multiple nodes that cross East-West lines.

Keynote Address: The keynote address this year will be given by Professor Richard Jaffe of Duke University. A specialist of Japanese Buddhism and modernity, Richard Jaffe is currently working on a study of travel and encounters between Japanese and other Buddhists during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as overseeing the publication of five volumes of the writings of D. T. Suzuki. His faculty profile may be viewed here.


The “Westernization” paradigm: Much writing on the modernization of Buddhism assumes that the process started when Buddhism came from Asia to the West and adapted to Western culture. In this paradigm, the modernization of Buddhism basically consists in Westernization; acquisition by Buddhism of features of Western culture, such as egalitarianism, gender neutrality, individualism and so on. This paradigm has several faults.

  • Modernization begins in Asia. The Westernization paradigm ignores the historical fact that Buddhist modernization movements first arose in Asia. By the end of the 1800s, Ceylon had “Protestant Buddhism” and Japanese thinkers were actively trying to create shin bukkyō or New Buddhism. In the 1920s, the Chinese monk Taixu started to define renjian fojiao, humanistic Buddhism. Today the best organized transnational Buddhist institutions are based in Asia.
  • Asian agency. The paradigm assumes that traditional Asian Buddhism lay inert until the coming of the West jolted it into reform, that in the modernization process Asian Buddhism lies passive as Western influences reshape it. However in Thailand, even before the approach of Western powers, King Mongkut in 1851 started the reform of Buddhism. And in modernization movements in other Asian countries, the Asian side was never a mere passive foil; it was an active agent mobilizing all available cultural resources to reform its local form of Buddhism.
  • Multiple nodes. The modernization of Buddhism is not a one-way imposition of ideas from West to East. Monks travelled between Asian countries creating networks mutually stimulating each other’s modernization movements. Japanese monk Shaku Sōen witnessed the modernization in Ceylon before returning to Japan. Thich Nhat Hanh developed Taixu’s renjian fojiao into “socially engaged Buddhism.” The creation of these complex networks linking multiple nodes transmitting information, influence, and funds, is the dynamic of globalization.
  • Authenticity. Some authors have bluntly claimed that Westernized Buddhism is much closer to the Buddha’s original teaching than traditional Asian Buddhism. Here Western Buddhism masks a self-congratulatory ethnocentrism. At issue here is authenticity and claims of authority which need to be explored more critically than has been done so far.
  • Global forms. The forms of modern Buddhist activity in Asia are not mere imitations of Western “possessions.” Viewed from a global perspective, these forms are clearly seen as organizational, behavioral, and cognitive institutions taken up by religious and secular groups within a global exchange of forms. Buddhist engagement with, and development of, political ideologies, human rights, charitable and social work, chaplaincy, healthcare, youth culture, and education, are just that: Buddhist engagements. Further work is necessary to unearth the complex and embedded local situations of these authentically Buddhist engagements.
  • The emergence of secularity and a modern concept of religion. Up to 1800s, religions were classed under four categories: Christianity, Mosaism, Mohammadanism, and heathen paganism. As they learned about other religions, people abandoned this Christianity-centred system and triggered a modernization of the concept of religion itself. The idea of secularity, the granting of respect for other religions and the concept of a “world religion” were born.

This conference will seek to understand the modernization of Buddhism under a truly global paradigm. To understand and explain any phenomenon associated with modern Buddhism, we need to factor in the global networks and transnational flows that have been at work since the nineteenth century. Some topics, questions and issues that could be discussed at this workshop include:

  • Ethnographic case studies and historical studies of the modernization of temples, monasteries, religious communities, business organizations, and other groups in Asia.
  • Theoretical explorations of ways to describe the modernization of Buddhism that move beyond the Westernization paradigm.
  • Critical approaches to religion. How have societies in Asia contributed to a modern conception of “religion,” or to a modern conception of “world religion”?
  • How has the globalization of the concept of “religion” affected the way that Buddhism has been, and is being, reconstructed?
  • How have modernization projects taken different forms in different places, recognizing processes of localization, or “glocalization.”
  • Critical approaches to authenticity. The question of authenticity arises wherever Buddhism modernizes. Who claims authenticity? What is the criterion of authenticity and what are the consequences of these claims?
  • What synergies operate across the East-West divide in Buddhism? What synergies fail to operate across the East-West divide?

Scholars interested in presenting should submit a paper proposal (200 words), a short biography (100 words), and a single-page CV to Graduate students selected to present will receive up to 3 nights of free accommodation at UBC, plus a modest honorarium depending on distance traveled.Deadline: January 1, 2016.

Direct inquiries to:

Jessica L. Main, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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