Buddhism, Meditation, and Global Secularisms

David McMahan


Buddhism in the modern world offers an example of (1) the porousness of the boundary between the secular and religious; (2) the diversity, fluidity, and constructedness of the very categories of religious and secular, since they appear in different ways among different Buddhist cultures in divergent national contexts; and (3) the way these categories nevertheless have very real-world effects and become drivers of substantial change in belief and practice.  Drawing on a few examples of Buddhism in various geographical and political settings, I hope to take a few modest steps toward illuminating some broad contours of the interlacing of secularism and Buddhism.  In doing so, I am synthesizing some of my own and a few others’ research on modern Buddhism, integrating it with some current research I am doing on meditation, and considering its implications for thinking about secularism.  This, I hope, will provide a background against which we can consider more closely some particular features of Buddhism in the Chinese cultural world, about which I will offer some preliminary thoughts.


secularism; modern Buddhism; meditation; mindfulness; vipassanā

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1251845


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