Coming to Terms with “Engaged Buddhism”: Periodizing, Provincializing, and Politicizing the Concept
Keywords:engaged Buddhism, humanistic Buddhism, modern Buddhism
Whatever happened to “Engaged Buddhism”? Twenty years after a flurry of publication placing this global movement firmly on the map, enthusiasm for the term itself appears to have evaporated. I attempt to reconstruct what happened: scholars turned away from the concept for its reproducing colonialist understandings of traditional Buddhism as essentially world-rejecting, and they developed alternate discourses for describing Buddhist actors’ multifarious social and political engagements, especially in contemporary Asia. I describe the specific rise and fall of the term in Anglophone scholarship, in order for scholars to better grasp the evolution of contemporary Western, Anglophone Buddhisms, to better understand what Buddhists in Asia are in fact doing with the term, and to better think through what it might mean politically for us as scholars to deploy the term at all. In particular, I identify “Academic Engaged Buddhism” (1988–2009) as one hegemonic form of Engaged Buddhism, a Western Buddhist practitioner-facing anthological project of Euro-American scholars with potentially powerful but unevenly distributed effects on Buddhist thought and practice around the world.
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