LECTURE> THE EASTERN BUDDHIST SOCIETY: Jørn Borup, Who Owns Buddhism? Postcolonialism, Decolonization, and the Study of Religion

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May 31, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Asian History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, East Asian History / Studies, Religious Studies and Theology






Dear Colleagues,

The Eastern Buddhist Society is pleased to announce the following online lecture:

Who Owns Buddhism? Postcolonialism, Decolonization, and the Study of Religion

By Jørn Borup, Associate Professor, Aarhus University, Guest Researcher at Otani University

The lecture will be online only. Please complete your registration using the following link:


You will then be sent a Zoom link for the lecture.

We look forward to seeing many of you there!



The comparative study of religion has traditionally been embodied in Eurocentric enlightenment ideals of rationality, individualism, secularity and evolutionism. It has furthermore been framed by ‘Protestant’ understandings of religion with a focus on texts, doctrines, belief and with a sharp division between sacred and secular. As an intellectual critique of Western hegemony, postcolonialism (including that of Japanese scholars) has already pointed to the power relations and distorted framings of the field.               

Since its ‘discovery’, Buddhism in the Western gaze has served as a remote reflection of Western culture in its relations to ‘otherness’. Postcolonial critique of the general study of religion is thus also directly related to the study of Buddhism and Buddhology. The concept of ‘Buddhism’ as well as its designation as a ‘religion’ has been claimed to be a modern Western construction, and the Western focus on canonical texts, doctrines, philosophy as well as on elite and monastic Buddhism has been criticized for expressing Orientalism and a Eurocentric bias. The study of Buddhism in Japan is thus an interesting field, being both influenced by ‘Western’ modernity ideals and itself being embodied in colonizing modernity, with both scholars and monks participating in transnational networks and interactions between people, practices and ideas.              

The decolonial study of religion rests on postcolonialism, but goes even further. Not just by including other parts of the world, but also by adding imperatives of social change and engaged scholarship combined with intersectionalist identity politics questioning the ‘white-washing’ of research. Decolonial critique is still in the making within both the general study of religion and Buddhism, and mainly performed in North America. ‘Woke’ scholarship asks for: less focus on white men, Western theories, universalism, secular ideas, rational thought, individualism and canonical texts in exchange for: more particularized and diversity-oriented knowledge systems, subjective experience, religious knowledge, theoretical orientations based on identity and not least a more socially engaged scholarship. In the presentation I will describe this new turn in the study of Buddhism and religion, and invite discussions of its potentialities and risks, including its relevance in a Japanese context.


Contact Info: 

The Eastern Buddhist Society Secretariat

EBS 東方仏教徒協会事務局



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