Workshop: Engineering Buddhism


This workshop explores how Buddhism is playing a role in providing platforms and resources for matters that were once largely considered state or political affairs. By focusing on this “new” role of Buddhism at the national and global levels, this workshop asks how Buddhism, and religion more broadly, serve as forms of infrastructure and “soft power” in national and transnational contexts.
The keynote speakers: Khun Eng Kuah (Jinan University) and Jens Reinke (University of the West) at #UCPH

June 23-24, 2022, University of Copenhagen (South Campus)

The CCBS to welcome a new Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Fellow

Paulina Kolata has recently been awarded a prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Individual Fellowship as part of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Framework Programme and will join the CCBS team in June 2023. Paulina is an interdisciplinary scholar with interest in Japanese religions, rurality, depopulation, value economies, affect, gender, and materiality. Her work explores ethnographically the socio-economic and demographic complexities of religion in contemporary Japan, focusing on Buddhism, depopulation, and people’s everyday lived experiences and their relations to particular pasts and imagined futures. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for East and South-East Asia Studies at Lund University in Sweden, completing her first monograph that investigates the post-growth survival of Buddhist temple communities in regional Japan. The book builds on her doctoral work she completed at the University of Manchester in 2019, supervised by Professor Erica Baffelli in Japanese Studies and Dr Chika Watanabe in Social Anthropology.

During her 2-year fellowship at the CCBS, Paulina will work on the project REFUSE.

REFUSE: Disrupting Buddhist circular economies excess and abandonment in contemporary Japan

Anti-materialism is the most pervasive popular assumption about Buddhism that obscures Buddhism’s material presence and its environmental impacts. Problematising such moulds, this ethnographic project will demonstrate how Buddhist materiality drives Buddhist circular economies, rooted in practices of merit-making and inherited ritual labour. By tracing Buddhist objects’ biographies and illuminating the circular nature of Buddhist material exchanges, I will investigate how things given to local temples generate excess and abandonment practices in contemporary post-growth Japan. Through histories of these objects and their relations, I will uncover how demographic hyper-ageing, regional depopulation, and changing consumption patterns inform and disrupt Buddhist material exchanges: how family altars and other personal ritual items, as well as meritorious food, land and object donations get caught up in discard, disposal, and reuse cycles and what emotional, ethical, practical, and spiritual implications ensue. As such, I will illuminate how Buddhist practices for processing accumulation and abandonment of Buddhist gifts are key to understanding contemporary Buddhism, and the wider issues of consumption, recycling, and aspirational non-waste economies they inhabit. I will therefore consider Buddhist giving as forces that generate and handle excess and abandonment that challenge the viability of the circular economy ideal by producing waste. Global concern about waste continues to rise: this research interrogates the waste-making impacts of religious activity and assesses the spiritual and practical implications of managing religious excess in the world’s fastest ageing society. It complements, and is complemented by, the research at the CCBS interrogating Buddhist economic entanglements and waste that is created by Buddhist economic exchanges.

Humans and their materials in Contemporary Buddhism

ALONG THE CIRCUMAMBULATION PATH, PHOTO BY TRINE BROX 2018

18 MARCH 2022 workshop

In this one-day workshop, we will approach contemporary Buddhism through investigations of the things that humans create, use, and discard broadly defined. We will explore the lifecycles of human-made materials, the sounds that they make, and what remains after religious practices, everyday consumption, and biological processes. How do Buddhists experience these things? How do those experiences depend on the existence of shared values and symbolic systems? How do Buddhists procure, use, or discard things? And how do these processes become integral to self-representations, social expectations, and the societal values that they ascribe to where human beings and their things belong? The workshop will take place at the CCBS, the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen. (The workshop is closed for more participants)

Presentations by
Paulina Kolata (Lunds Universitet)
Jørn Borup (Aarhus Universitet)
Stephen Christopher (University of Copenhagen)
Sierra Humbert (University of Copenhagen)
Yasmin Cho (University of Copenhagen)
Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko (University of Copenhagen)
Trine Brox (University of Copenhagen)

The CCBS welcomes a new member of the team; Sierra Humbert

We are happy to announce that we have a new member of the CCBS research team! Sierra Humbert has received a 3-year PhD scholarship from the Veluxfonden and will be contributing to the research project “Waste: Consumption and Buddhism in the Age of Garbage”. We are excited for Sierra to join us in Copenhagen!

Working on a three month waste management project in Sankhu, Nepal, Sierra learnt from residents that despite the Blue Waste2Value scheme, a social enterprise addressing solid waste, sanitary waste remains an unaddressed problem. While a PhD-fellow at the CBBS, Sierra will be collaborating on the project “Waste: Consumption and Buddhism in the Age of Garbage.” Her research centres on the experiences, attitudes and influences that inform consumption practices and sanitary waste for female pilgrims to Vajrayogini temple, a significant pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists in Sankhu, Nepal. During her PhD, she will produce an ethnographic account of women’s experiences of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in Sankhu, focusing on the relationship between Newar Buddhist ritual practices, sacred spaces and sanitary waste imaginaries and practices. Her project holds theoretical avenues for investigating the transformative impact of religious practices upon the practitioners’ experiences and understandings of themselves, their community and the environment within the context of sanitary waste.

Sierra’s ambition while working with the CBBS is to contribute to the Anthropology of Buddhism within the context of contemporary environmental and gender issues. Her research project’s engagement with the complex relationship between Buddhism, caste and gender amongst the Newars will inform NGO and local authority action towards Menstrual Hygiene Management by situating sanitary waste within contemporary religious practices and understandings. Most importantly, it will provide alternative solutions and ways of thinking to address the practical challenges concerning sanitary waste that Newar women, and women internationally, navigate on a daily basis.

Sierra graduated from her Bachelor’s in Human, Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge in 2018, specialising in Social Anthropology. In 2020, she completed an MRes in Anthropology at University College London where her research project focused on Plum Village, an international Mahayana Buddhist tradition founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Adapting her intended fieldwork during the UK national lockdown, she undertook qualitative digital fieldwork focused on community creation within the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, she explored how conceptualisations of the body and person are transformed through meditation and mindfulness, and how these practices are mechanisms for Plum Village to proliferate worldwide.

Alongside her studies, Sierra tutored in Anthropology, Sociology and History up to master’s level and regularly taught students at international summer schools in the UK. She is looking forward to contributing her knowledge on Anthropological theory and concepts, Materiality and Religion while working with the CBBS. Sierra has also travelled extensively in South Asia, South East Asia, Australia and Europe and in her spare time enjoys participating in activities such as Taekwondo and Ballet.

When the Eternal Meets the Imperishable: Plastics and Religion in Contemporary Asia

Photo by Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko

The Centre for Contemporary Buddhist Studies at the University of Copenhagen invites you to join this online panel

When
30 March at 22:00 (Los Angeles)
31 March at 7.00  (Copenhagen)
31 March at 13.00 (Hong Kong)

Where
Zoom – register here to receive Zoom link

Asia is one of the biggest producers and importers of plastics and plastic waste. As in other parts of the world, Asian nations are often overwhelmed by cheap plastic products that are designed for single use, but whose materiality will outlast the consumer. Although the benefits of plastics as a super-material are often extolled, plastics present particular ambiguities. Largely unable to biodegrade, they photodegrade fractiously, separating into ever smaller particles. Lauded as impervious to microbial contamination, they off-gas and absorb environmental contaminants. Frequently imagined as infinitely suitable and adaptable, they are often unable to be remoulded or repurposed.

This panel will explore how the incorporation of plastics into the sacred disrupts our everyday relationships with this now ubiquitous material. It will explore the imagined and material qualities of plastics as they are present in Asian religions and ideologies. In their ability to replicate novel forms, plastic-based items offer themselves as cheap, available and ready for use in religious rituals. Though frequently imagined as insubstantial (in spite of their lingering material qualities), plastics are often used to materialise the sacred, giving form to religious and political icons and replicating/becoming key objects needed to carry out rituals. How do these materials challenge our relationships with plastics and the sacred? Comparatively we seek to understand whether plastics are invisible or disruptive, and if and how they change the nature of religious rituals, the form of relationships with the divine, and the accessibility of ritual practice in Asian religions and belief systems.

The speakers are

Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa (Occidental College): The Ambivalence of Plastic Pollution in Himalayan Buddhist Material Cultures

Ka Ming Wu (The Chinese University of Hong Kong): Plastic during Mao’s China: Preserving the Revolutionary Sublime

Trine Brox (CCBS, University of Copenhagen): Plastic Skinscapes in Tibetan Buddhism

Tridibesh Dey (University of Exeter): Plasticity and Religion: Reflexions on What ‘Sticks’

Moderator and discussant: Saskia Adelle Abrahms-Kavunenko (CCBS, University of Copenhagen)

NEW PUBLICATION: BUDDHISM AND WASTE

The Center for Contemporary Buddhism is proud to present our latest publication BUDDHISM AND WASTE: THE EXCESS, DISCARD, AND AFTERLIFE OF BUDDHIST CONSUMPTION edited by Trine Brox & Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg.

In what ways do Buddhists recognize, define, and sort waste from non-waste? What happens to Buddhist-related waste? How do new practices of Buddhist consumption result in new forms of waste and consequently new ways of dealing with waste?

This book explores these questions in a close examination of a religion that is often portrayed as anti-materialist and non-economic. It provides insight into the complexity of Buddhist consumption, conceptions of waste, and waste care. Examples include scripture that has been torn and cannot be read, or an amulet that has disintegrated, as well as garbage left behind on a pilgrimage, or the offerings of food and prayer scarves that create ecological contamination.

Chapters cover mass-production and over-consumption, the wastefulness of consumerism, the by-products of Buddhist practices like rituals and festivals, and the impact of increased Buddhist consumption on religious practices and social relations. The book also looks at waste in terms of what is discarded, exploring issues of when and why particular objects and practices are sorted and handled as sacred and disposable. Contributors address how sacred materiality is destined to wear and decay, as well as ideas about redistribution, regeneration or recycling, and the idea of waste as afterlife.

Contents

Introduction: A Framework for Studying Buddhism and Waste, Trine Brox (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

1. Generosity’s Limits: Buddhist Excess and Waste in Northeast Tibet, Jane Caple (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

2. Modern Minimalism and the Magical Buddhist Art of Disposal, Hannah Gould (University of Melbourne, Australia)

3. The Afterlives of Butsudan: Ambivalence and the Disposal of Home Altars in the United States and Canada, Jeff Wilson (University of Waterloo, Canada)

4. The Great Heisei Doll Massacre: Disposal and the Production of Ignorance in Contemporary Japan, Fabio Gygi (SOAS, University of London, UK)

5. Reincarnating Sacred Objects: The Recycling of Generative Efficacy and the Question of Waste in Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist Material Cultures, Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa (Occidental College, Los Angeles, USA)

6. Zombie Rubbish and Mummy Materiality: The Undead and the Fate of Mongolian Waste, Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko (University of Copehagen, Denmark)

7. Something Rotten in Shangri-La: Green Buddhism, Brown Buddhism, and the Problem of Waste in Ladakh, India, Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

Abstracts

In the first chapter, Jane Caple explores concerns about Buddhist material excess among Tibetans in northeast Tibet, where there has been a wave of new temple building and escalating levels of expenditure on Buddhist rituals and monastic events. Supporting the Sangha and building temples are ubiquitous forms of Buddhist generosity practice. Why then have some monks and laypeople been critical of such practices in recent years, perceiving them to be excessive and wasteful? Are there limits to how many temples a community should build or to how big they should be? Caple situates these debates in relation to local responses to state developmentalism and market capitalism, exploring the specific contexts in which an impetus toward conspicuous generosity embedded in Buddhist teachings has become problematized. In contrast to external critiques of Tibetan Buddhism as corrupt and wasteful, she argues that these emic concerns about material excess have more to do with a moralization of consumption than of Buddhism or Buddhist practices per se.

While Caple focuses on problematizations of Buddhist material excess, Hannah Gould’s chapter explores how popular Buddhist philosophy and praxis stemming from Japan are deployed to deal with the excess of consumer goods in late-capitalist societies around the globe via the discourse of minimalism. Gould examines the works of three Japanese minimalist luminaries that have travelled globally via the “pop Zen” phenomenon, alongside an ethnographic study of minimalist lifestyles in Australia, to investigate how Japanese Buddhism features within lifestyles that value simplicity, contentedness, and skilled detachment. The investigation reveals an emerging movement in domestic spirituality based on an economy of attachment, which promotes heightened emotional skills of disposal and investment in a select number of goods. Minimalism, as a prominent contemporary articulation of Buddhism, is not aniconic or anti-materialist, but full of life-changing magic.

In Chapter 3, Jeff Wilson looks at Buddhist home altars (butsudan) that have long been a mainstay of Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian homes. These objects are sites of significant religious activity and family meaning. However, as modern social forces break apart extended families and depress Buddhist adherence, these previously cherished small shrines often transform from sacred objects into problematic clutter. Still tinged with holiness, nostalgia, or even the possibility of bad luck, they linger until they can be foisted onto Buddhist temples. As Wilson discusses, this simply passes the problem on, as ministers now have to figure out what to do with them. This chapter considers why butsudan are dropped off at temples, the varying responses of ministers to this sacred rubbish, and what the vast accumulation of discarded home altars at temples in North American and Hawai‘i means for traditional Buddhist patterns of practice.

Fabio Gygi’s chapter turns our attention to Buddhist rites of disposal in contemporary Japan, more specifically memorial services for dolls (ningyō kuyō). How do such rituals facilitate the transformation of cherished objects into waste? Gygi argues, based on six months of ethnographic fieldwork, that these rituals produce ignorance about the fate of the dolls. In order to do this, ritual frames— spatial, temporal, and material—are manipulated to create the impression that the dolls simply disappear. Gygi contends that this is necessary to mitigate the contradiction between feeling sorry for the dolls and the wish to get rid of them. The increase in temples and shrines offering this service in the Heisei era (1989– 2019), and the fact that many informants who participated in these rites described them as “shūkatsu” (end-of-life preparation), suggest that demographic changes are one of the driving forces behind the popularity of this practice.

In Chapter 5, Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa examines the recycling of sacred waste in Tibet and the Himalayas. Objects become sacred through processes of consecration and through their function, location, and association with powerful places and people. When statues, texts, prayer flags, amulets, and other objects age to the point where they are no longer recognizable or functional, or are removed from their original context and rediscovered, they are not simply disposed of. After being awakened, sacred objects remain powerful and venerated as reincarnating agents capable of granting blessings. Instead of disposal, which can attract dangerous forms of ritual pollution, sacred objects are often recycled as zung (filling for other sacred objects), become treasures to be cared for in residential shrines or monasteries, or are renovated or refreshed. Although their outer forms might change, Holmes-Tagchungdarpa argues, these sacred objects are thereby reincarnated through recycling, and continue to hold the same efficacy as in their earlier lives.

Chapter 6, by Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko, delves into the issue of objects that do not disintegrate. In the presocialist period, Mongolian Buddhist offerings were perishable. They were generally made from dairy products and other items that decompose, such as barley grains and prayer scarves made from silk. In the contemporary period, religious items are often mass-produced and are cheap and easy to purchase. Many are now made from materials that cannot decompose. Store-bought imperishable items, such as polyester prayer scarves and food offerings wrapped in plastic, take on a new kind of materiality that lingers problematically. Distinct from ordinary waste, when Buddhist offerings resist entropy, they can become powerful, potentially negatively altering the fortunes of those who mistreat them. Abrahms-Kavunenko utilizes the “undead” as a way of analyzing the differences between ordinary and sacred waste, while foregrounding their material properties.

Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg takes us to the northwest Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh in the seventh and final chapter of the volume, in which she examines the role that Buddhists have played in tackling the problem of waste. In the past few decades, an enormous growth in the tourism industry has put a considerable strain on this fragile, cold desert region, not least in dealing with waste management issues. Tourism has most frequently borne the blame for the waste problem in Ladakh, yet Buddhist consumption and the amount of waste produced at large Buddhist festivals has rarely come into focus. Buddhist-led organizational efforts to address “brown” environmental concerns, such as picking up trash, have become more common, yet it is their “green” initiatives, such as tree-planting and wildlife conservation, that have attracted global attention and awards. What Williams-Oerberg terms Brown Buddhism, which encompasses both Buddhist waste and Buddhist efforts to combat the problem of waste, has not drawn as much global attention as Green Buddhism in Ladakh.

Visit the publisher here.

Call for Papers: Buddhism in the Anthropocene

Shrine at the Origins Centre, Balingup, Western Australia

14–15 July 2022

Organised by Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko, Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies and Jovan Maud, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.
Location: Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle (Saale), Germany

This workshop will bring together scholars working on Buddhist responses to the array of concatenating phenomena that characterize the Anthropocene, the epoch defined by the unprecedented impact of human activity on global environmental processes. These include, but are not limited to, the climate crisis, extreme weather events, radical environmental degradation, plummeting biodiversity, the near ubiquity of pollution, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels.

Around the world, Buddhists are grappling with the global dimension of the Anthropocene. Extinction Rebellion Buddhists have been meditating in protest at the recent COP26 in Glasgow, and have issued a “Declaration of Interdependence,” while venerable engaged Buddhism advocate Thich Nhat Hanh has recently published Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet. Buddhist notions of interdependence or interbeing are evoked in the hope of generating a new appreciation of human–nonhuman entanglements. Mindfulness and other contemplative practices are being marketed as not only helpful for dealing with everyday stresses but as aiding in producing cognitive and social resilience in the face of climate catastrophe.

The workshop will focus both on empirically based ethnographic and historical studies of Buddhist responses to, and entanglements with, anthropogenic phenomena as well as broader attempts to think about the Anthropocene through Buddhist concepts, frameworks, and assumptions. We are particularly interested in contributions that think beyond disciplinary boundaries and individual case studies to engage with broader debates on the Anthropocene and its ramifications.

Questions that participants could address include, but are not limited to the following: If the Anthropocene is, in part, a state of consciousness (Howe 2019) in which the dominant geological force is aware of its impact on the planet, what does it mean to be “awake” to this situation as a Buddhist (Schneiderman 2012)? What modes of action (or inaction) become available? How can Buddhist notions help us to rethink the Anthropocene? How to Buddhists navigate the tensions between individual spiritual cultivation and engagement with worldly issues? And how do Buddhist ideas, approaches, strategies interact with those coming from other, “non-Buddhist” contexts? Finally, if the Anthropocene challenges modernist dichotomies, including those between “religion” and “the secular” (Latour 2017), does it also require us to rethink longstanding debates on Buddhist modernism, for example the distinctions between modernist and “traditional” Buddhism, including practices and beliefs—geomancy, spirit beliefs—within the framework of a “non-secular Anthropocene” (Bubandt 2018).

The workshop will not only consider Buddhism as a “solution”. It will work against romanticized imaginings of Buddhism as inherently environmental, sustainable, and “in tune with nature”. We are just as interested in exploring ways in which Buddhist practices or attitudes perpetuate environmental decline, sustain climate change denial, and generate waste.

We expect participants to pre-circulate their papers and, after the workshop, to revise them for a special journal issue in the Journal of Global Buddhism.

Abstracts of proposed papers (500 words maximum) should reach all the convenors by 28 February 2022 (s.abrahms.k @ hum.ku.dk; maud @ eth.mpg.de). We ask that abstracts include details of how the paper will address broader debates on the Anthropocene or engage in interdisciplinary dialogue. Please send inquiries to both convenors.

The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology will cover travel and accommodation costs for accepted speakers. Currently we are hoping to hold an in-person workshop, though hybrid elements may be included. Naturally, given the unpredictable nature of the current pandemic, all plans may be subject to change.

Enlightenment and the Gasping City

Time: 9 Nov. 2021, 12:00-13:00
Place: Room 10.4.05, University of Copenhagen, South Campus

Enlightenment and the Gasping City: Pollution, Purification and Buddhism in Postsocialist Mongolia

Join us for a lunch talk by Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko, Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen.

In Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, the murky and obscuring nature of the city’s chronic air pollution is a physical constant of the long winter months. Air pollution intimately influences urban lives in Ulaanbaatar, not only through the bodies that breathe the particulate saturated air, but also through religious practices and the city’s psychological underpinnings. Air pollution marks the boundary between what is considered to be the physical and the immaterial. It insinuates itself into all parts of the city, yet ultimately eludes capture and control. It is precisely this lack of clarity, its ambiguity or fuzziness, which makes pollution resonate powerfully within the minds of Ulaanbaatar’s residents. As the dirty air blocks access to breath and light in the city, air pollution is believed to reflect broader cosmological, economic and moral obscurations. This talk will investigate how the desire for purification and light in Ulaanbaatar relate to contemporary Mongolian religious practices.

Dr Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko is an anthropologist and the author of Enlightenment and the Gasping CityShe has published on the topics of Buddhism, shamanism, postsocialism, economic anthropology, global warming and pollution, and materiality in Mongolia and India. Dr Abrahms-Kavunenko is dedicated to the role of anthropologist as co-communicator and collaborative agent. Her work is situated at intersections between environmental changes and cultural praxis, in multi-scalar and trans-species contexts. She has held research positions at the Max Planck Institute for Anthropology, New York University Shanghai, the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt and the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She is currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow within the Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen and is the co-founder of Cenote a travelling multi-disciplinary residency program.

All are welcome. Feel free to bring your own lunch. 

Time: 9 Nov. 2021, 12:00-13:00

Place: Room 10.4.05, ToRS, South Campus

Organizer: Asia Studies, CCBS, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies and ADI

Guest lecture: Taming the City

The Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies invites you to a lecture by

Dr. Kristina Jonutytė
Vilnius University

Taming the City
Urbanisation, Buddhism, and New Religious Topographies in Post-Soviet Buryatia

Buryat Buddhism has historically been tightly linked with the rural milieu. Since its spread in the 18-19th centuries, its temples and lamas were initially nomadic, although settled monasteries did form later to serve the nomadizing Buryat population. The spread of Buddhism was brought to a violent halt for much of the 20th century by Soviet anti-religious policies. While the losses were vast, the recent post-Soviet decades have seen a vigorous Buddhist revival, (re)establishing its role in public and private spheres. This religious revival, however, has taken place in a vastly different social context. While Buryats were previously mostly nomadizing herders, over the 20th century much of the Buryat population has moved to the capital city Ulan-Ude, previously a Russian settlement. Buddhism today is thriving under newly urban conditions, but much of its historical, ritual and ideological threads still link it to the previously rural context. Being relatively recent to many Buryats in Russia, the urban setting has a rather ambiguous status: it is seen as providing opportunity but dangerous, potentially enriching but morally corrupt, a tool of social mobility yet a fall into precariety and misery for others. In this context, many urbanites in Buryatia incorporate Buddhism into their strategies and practices of urban everyday life, be it for preventing misfortunes, conjuring hope or bringing about success. In this talk, I will focus on the ways in which specifically urban environment and life are being “tamed” and managed in post-Soviet Buryat Buddhism through several different means such as channelling the power of rural Buddhism and establishing new religious topographies in the city.

Time:    September 23, 2021, at 15:15-16:30 
Place:    South Campus University of Copenhagen
             
Karen Blixens Plads 8,
             Building 10, room 10.4.05  

Everybody is welcome!

Dr. Kristina Jonutytė is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Vilnius University as well as a Lecturer at Vytautas Magnus University. She is a social anthropologist and currently researches Buddhism and urbanisation in Buryatia (Russian Federation). She completed her doctorate at Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, where she explored Buddhist giving practices in Ulan-Ude, Buryatia. Her research interests are in the anthropology of religion, political and economic anthropology, as well as Russia and Inner Asia.

CFP: Engineering Buddhism

Infrastructure and Soft Power in Asia and Beyond

The workshop ‘Engineering Buddhism: Infrastructure and Soft Power in Asia and Beyond’ will take place at The Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies, University of Copenhagen on June 23–24, 2022

Buddhist social activities have gained increased visibility recently in national and transnational contexts. Various Buddhist organizations (temples, charity groups, NGOs) have begun to actively engage with social and global issues—education, poverty, environmentalism, etc.—and this, in turn, is changing their relationships to societies, states, and global politics. This workshop addresses these changes in Buddhism, using various ethnographic examples to explore how Buddhism is playing a role in providing platforms and resources for matters that were once largely considered state or political affairs. By focusing on this “new” role of Buddhism at the national and global levels, this workshop asks how Buddhism, and religion more broadly, serve as forms of infrastructure and “soft power” in national and transnational contexts; it examines whether or how Buddhism itself operates as a physical or virtual network, or as a platform for facilitating and (dis)connecting movements, ideas, people, and technologies; and in doing so, how Buddhism challenges, confirms, or transforms state governance and global relationships within and beyond Asian countries. The workshop will mainly focus on, but is not limited to, the following questions:

• What are the (new) roles of Buddhism in transnational contexts and how are they taking place? Why now?

• How does Buddhism function as a form of infrastructure that can support or impede flows of materials, ideas, and people?

• What does “thinking infrastructurally” or “religion as infrastructure” mean in global Buddhism?

• Is Buddhism effective as soft power in global politics?

• What is the relationship between Buddhism and development?

• What actants are at work and what roles do they play in engineering Buddhist social activities?

• What does it mean to do ethnographic research on faith-based organizations as forms of infrastructure or soft power for the state? What are the challenges and how are such settings different from non-religious settings?

We seek papers that address these issues in a broad range of societies, not only in Asia where Buddhism has been influential and well acknowledged, but also in countries where Buddhist influence is traditionally weak, but where one can see the clear emergence of Buddhist activities. The papers must be based on original research and have not been published previously. This workshop brings together scholars from around the world who work on this cutting-edge phenomenon of globalizing Buddhism, and in doing so, seeks to understand the new role of Buddhism, and religion broadly, in global society and politics.

Workshop details:

• Date: June 23–24, 2022. (Full day on Thursday, half-day on Friday)

• Location: University of Copenhagen, Denmark (on site but virtual participation will be considered if needed)

• Travel reimbursements: possible

• Format: pre-circulation of papers 3 weeks before the workshop. Each participant will serve as the discussant for one paper.

• Paper: No more than 9,000 words including footnotes and bibliography.

Abstract deadline: Oct 31, 2021. Send to yasmin.cho@hum.ku.dk

For those who are interested in participating in the workshop, please submit your paper abstract (no more than 500 words) to the organizer, Dr. Yasmin Cho, Marie-Curie Fellow, University of Copenhagen, by Oct 31, 2021. Those who are selected will be notified by Nov 14, 2021.

* Participants are required to submit full papers by June 1, 2022. The papers will be pre-circulated for all to read before the workshop. After the workshop, we plan to submit the papers as a special issue to a peer-reviewed journal. Any questions may be sent to Yasmin Cho.