Introduction: Buddhism and Economics

Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg


The article discusses material religion in a commercial setting and begins with Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936). Benjamin argues that mechanical reproduction emancipated works of art from religious rituals and evaporated the aura of art. This has resonance among some Tibetan Buddhists in the context of mass-produced Buddhist material objects. Are such objects fit to be given as gifts, implemented in rituals, and worshipped on altars? Based upon ethnographic work at a Tibetan Buddhist market in urban China, this article argues that, although factory-made, for-profit objects are not made or handled according to Buddhist tradition, the aura can be produced in different ways and at different points of an object’s life. This article presents three very different modes of action employed by marketers, customers, and ritual specialists. The modes of action are packaging, ritual action, and faith labor.


Buddhism and economics; Religion and economics; Contemporary Buddhism; Max Weber; merit economy

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Copyright (c) 2019 Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg

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