"East is West and West is East, and Ever the Twain Do Meet: Global Buddhist Discourse in the Late 19th Century"

Wendi Adamek's picture
November 4, 2016
Alberta, Canada
Subject Fields: 
Asian History / Studies, Religious Studies and Theology, World History / Studies


The Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies at the University of Calgary is pleased to present a talk by Professor John Harding


Friday Nov. 4, 3-5pm in SS541 

Department of Classics and Religion, University of Calgary

2500 University Dr. NW

Calgary, AB Canada T2N1N4


"East is West and West is East, and Ever the Twain Do Meet: Global Buddhist Discourse in the Late 19th Century"

Buddhism’s modern spread and global popularity includes many facets, from the international migration of Buddhists to the transnational influence of positive portrayals of the tradition, which have been strategically deployed for well over a century by Asian and Western Buddhists to promote the tradition in the global marketplaces both of religions and of techniques for self-cultivation. Advocates—from Asia, Europe, North America and beyond— include appeals as varied as extolling Buddhism as an ancient tradition that best encapsulates a timeless wisdom to championing Buddhism as the modern, rational, scientific and universal resource best suited to the present. At both ends of this laudatory spectrum, Buddhism can hardly be contained by the relatively recently constructed category of "world religion." Some promoters acknowledge a tension between these traits and emphasize only part, others maintain both aspects but contrast these with shortcomings of institutional religion and with allegedly degenerate superstitious practices and beliefs. This presentation explores how these strategies of promotion are embedded in a global discourse beyond East and West with local variations that emphasize certain desirable traits and modify positions and boundaries for polemical advantage among religions and within Buddhism. This was already the case in late-19th-century representations of Buddhism and still resonates today.

John Harding received his PhD in Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. He is an Associate Professor in Religious Studies and the Coordinator of Asian Studies at the University of Lethbridge. His primary areas of interest include Japanese Buddhism and the cross-cultural exchange between Asia and the West that has shaped the development of modern Buddhism worldwide. He is the editor of Studying Buddhism in Practice (2012), the author of Mahayana Phoenix: Japan's Buddhists at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions (2008), and a co-editor with his colleagues Victor Hori and Alexander Soucy of Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada (2014) and the earlier volume, Wild Geese: Studies of Buddhism in Canada (2010). The same team of three scholars is currently working on a five-year SSHRC research project, "The Modernization of Buddhism in Global Perspective."


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