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Jørn Borup

Zen for the elite, Buddhism for the masses: - Religious appropriation and spiritual circulation between Japan and the West

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Two main trajectories in the dissemination of Japanese Buddhism and its appropriation in the West are those following Zen and Soka Gakkai. Zen became the ideal for 19th and 20th century intellectuals, who interpreted it as a pure, spiritual and scientific kind of exotic and yet universally applicable religion. D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966) was a central figure in exporting Zen to the West, and in manufacturing such Zen and reverse Orientalist images. The Suzuki effect has had a significant impact on Western culture and Buddhism. Soka Gakkai in 20th Century Japan was a new religious movement primarily for the masses. As a global form of Buddhism, it was mainly exported through the charismatic personality of Ikeda Daisaku (1928-). His international and trans-ethnic understanding of Buddhism has made the export of the religion relevant for broader segments in the West. This chapter investigates the transfiguration and globalisation of two very different kinds of Japanese Buddhism. The theoretical framework will be based on sociological and constructionist understandings of religion consisting of mutual circulations of ideas, practices and networks of people. After a historical contextualisation of orientalist/occidentalist presumptions and cross-cultural borrowing, the two kinds of Buddhism and their different routes, appropriations and impacts will be investigated. While the overall geo-cultural context is Japan and the West, the latter will also be exemplified by a concrete case, namely Denmark.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSufism and Zen in the West
EditorsMichael Conway, Saeko Yazaki
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

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