Session 40

Buddhism and Local Modernization 
Chair/Organizer: Alexandre Benod, University of Lyon 3 (IETT) / Keio University 

 This panel highlights three examples illustrating local modernization of Buddhism in contemporary Nepal and Japan. Our objective will be to reflect upon the dilemma of the evolution of Buddhism in Asia on anthropologic and sociologic points of view. Beyond issues such as modernity or westernization, we want to draw attention on three specific cases. 

On the one hand we will deal with Sherpa Buddhism, which provides the theoretic framework of local modernization and the indigenous process of change. Therefore, the narrative of modernization (a Western narrative) needs to be reassessed in local (Asian) settings: national religions or local traditions might for instance absorb some features of the program of "modernity" (in Japan), whereas others undertake their own historical path according to their own dynamics of change (in Nepal). Consequently, we will also have to shed light on Japanese Buddhism, through a comparative perspective. As an evidence of evolution, successful Japanese New Religions are often said to understand the social suffering of their contemporaries. In post war society, poverty and diseases caused a massive swell in the ranks of the Soka Gakkai, then in the 1980's, many youths disillusioned by the materialist Japanese society became followers of Agonshű. A few years ago, historical Japanese Buddhism has started to react to the challenge of the New Religions. Considered unable to satisfy Japanese spiritual needs, Japanese Buddhism has also been labeled for decades as ‘funeral Buddhism’, but this interpretative paradigm doesn't consider all the socially engaged activities carried on by contemporary Japanese Buddhist denominations. 


1) Alexandre Benod, University of Lyon 3 (IETT)–Keio University 
New Buddhist Movements in Japan? The New Religion Agonshű's Response to Contemporary Social Suffering 

The aim of this paper is to define the modernization of Buddhism in the light of the evolution of several Japanese New Religions. I will focus on the example of Agonshű, a Japanese 'New New Religion' founded in 1978 by Kiriyama Seiyű. Since the end of the 20th century, Agonshű has extended its activities abroad to pray for World Peace, and performed numerous Goma ceremonies (fire rite to liberate souls of Dead) outside Japan. The choice of the place of the ceremony is lead by its importance during World War 2, like the Goma held at Auschwitz in 2006 or at Khabarovsk (Siberia) in 2007 where many Japanese soldiers had been buried. As all these rituals were broadcasted in Japan through satellite, the use of media in preach will be an important part of my materials. 

The present analysis is based on fieldwork done in Agonshű's facilities, in January-February 2008 in Tokyo and Chiba and from September 2008 up to the present in Tokyo. The study revealed that the recent acceleration of Goma's performances conducted out of Japan (Auschwitz 2006, Khabarovsk 2007, Jerusalem 2008 and the forthcoming Guadalcanal 2009), emphasizes the eagerness of Agonshű to develop the movement inside Japan rather to expand overseas activities. As many followers noticed, the leader, Kiriyama Seiyű, really understood the suffering of Japanese who still bear the stigmata of World War 2. 

What is the role of images of Goma ceremony performed abroad in Agonshű's practice? While the number of followers who experienced World War 2 is "naturally" decreasing, why is the number of ceremonies for World Peace increasing? 


2) Daiana Di Massimo, Ca'Foscari University of Venice–University of Lyon 3 (IETT) 
A s˘shiki shűky˘ Investigating contemporary Higashi Honganji (ďtani-ha) social engagement 

 A historical and interpretative gap seems to characterize the doctrinal and the activities' development of contemporary Japanese Buddhist denominations; moreover, because of the growing number of new answers offered by New Religions and spiritual movements, traditional Buddhism in Japan often continues to be represented as a s˘shiki shűky˘ (‘funeral Buddhism’), no more able to keep up with expectations. The aim of this paper is proving that, although the seeming shortage of initiatives, the so called ‘Temple Buddhism’ is still able to be a social and spiritual actor, offering concrete answers through socially engaged activities. The particular object of my analysis will be the J˘do Shinshű Higashi Honganji (ďtani-ha) denomination, which, among all the Buddhist traditions, seems to be the most misrepresented one. I thus will explore the ways it copes with a rapidly changing society, particularly focusing on the activities carried by the Higashi Honganji (ďtani-ha) in Ky˘to toward women and young people. Thanks to a denomination open to clerical marriage, women has always had a particular position in J˘do Shinshű Buddhism so that temple wives has become an important figure in community life: this is why I want to investigate how they are involved in religious life. The second point of the analysis will be how a traditional school, apparently in crisis, can break the barrier of secularization and call back young people to its religious message. 

Discussant: Yoshihide Sakurai, Hokkaido University