Who Owns Religion? Identity politics and cultural appropriation in post-global Buddhism

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While historically sharing the characteristics of a universalistic religion and a modernist grand narrative, global Buddhism is mainly the product of a late modern development. Centripetal forces with circulating ideas, practices, and institutions have been part of a liberal market in an open exchange society with ‘open hermeneutics’ and an accessible universal grammar. Its global focus has triggered de-ethnification, de-culturalization, and de-territorialization, claiming transnational universality as a central paradigm fit for a global world beyond isolationalist particularism. However, such seemingly universalist versions of a global Buddhism in recent years, mainly in North America, have been criticized for actually being representations of particular cultures (e.g. ‘white Buddhism’) with benefits for only particular segments. This article investigates the discourses of this new turn, involving questions of authority, authenticity, identity, cultural appropriation, and representation. It is suggested that criticism of global Buddhism should be seen as typical of what could be called ‘post-global Buddhism’, in which identity politics is a frame of reference serving as a centrifugal force, signaling a new phase in ‘Western Buddhism’. The relevance for the study of religion is further discussed with reflections on how to respond to post-global religious identity politics without being consumed by neither stark objectivism nor subjectivist go-nativism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNumen
Number of pages27
ISSN0029-5973
Publication statusSubmitted - Apr 2019

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