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Experimental Buddhism in Contemporary Japan: Innovation and Activism for the 21st Century

John Nelson- University of San Francisco

Buddhism in Japan has been described recently by some of its own priests as "corrupt," "commodified," and, (somewhat surprisingly) "anti-Buddhist.” Centuries of collusion with state power, a financial dependence on mortuary rituals, and an increasingly mobile and highly-educated population all contribute to this state of affairs.However, a growing number of priests at the grassroots level are attempting a paradigm shift both in how they are perceived and in the services they provide at their temples: hostels and hospices for the elderly, food and baths for the homeless, shelters and counseling for victims of domestic violence, as well as public performances and events (theater, music, lectures, films) aimed at raising awareness, promoting involvement, and enhancing community. Based on recent fieldwork, this paper will profile some of the “experimental” responses of progressive Buddhist priests to the profound challenges of late modernity.

John Nelson is Professor of East Asian Religions and Chair in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Francisco. An anthropologist of Japanese religions, he is the author of Enduring Identities: The Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan (2000), and A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine (1996), as well as several films and many articles on religion in contemporary Japan.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 | 5:15 pm — 6:30 pm
Encina Hall West - Room 208

Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford