Buddhist Temple Economies in Urban Asia

Christoph Brumann

Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin

Beata Switek
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin

Kristina Jonutyte

Hannah Klepeis

Studies of Buddhism often mirror the otherworldly tendencies of this religion by treating the mundane matters of managing monks, nuns and temples as a secondary concern. But while Max Weber has argued that the ideals of this religion are detrimental to the development of a capitalist ethic, Buddhism has shown itself as very adaptable to worldly circumstances in its long history, with Buddhist institutions and practitioners often accumulating substantial wealth and political power. Dealing with a major force in the history of Eurasia, this group will explore the nexus between economy and religion in contemporary urban settings. It works from the assumption that in cities, Buddhist temples can rely less on long-standing social ties and obligations and instead must make conscious efforts to justify their existence, maintain social and economic networks, and reach out. Researchers will conduct ethnographic fieldwork in and around selected Buddhist temples, placing them in local and translocal contexts. They will pay particular attention to the financial and material flows between the temple and the laity and to economic reasoning in a world-renouncers' religion in which wealth is never entirely unproblematic.

Complementing an earlier anthropological emphasis on Theravada Buddhism, all field studies will take up the other great tradition of Mahayana. In the originally Tibetan Buddhisms practiced in Ulanbataar (Mongolia), Ulan Ude (Republic of Buryatia, Russia), and Shangrila/Zhongdian (Yunnan province, China), this is coupled with Vajrayana elements. After a period of severe oppression under high socialism, these three countries currently experience a substantial Buddhist revival. New temples and followers abound but there is also uncertainty as to the legitimacy of the often quite innovative practices and practitioners. Field studies in the Japanese capital Tokyo and the capital of Japanese Buddhism – Kyoto – will juxtapose this to a situation where Buddhism, while much more settled and comfortably established, is generally regarded as in decline and as an unlikely source for the spiritual renewal of society. The basic requirement to make ends meet, however, is shared by temples everywhere, and they all have to stand their ground and retain credibility in the face of secular modernity, competing religious institutions and specialists, and a capitalist consumer society with ever-increasing disparities of wealth. Ethnographic field research into these matters is planned for 2015/16.

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