Publication Date

Summer 6-1-2017


Japan Review



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The secularization thesis, rooted in the idea that “modernity” brings with it the destruction—or, at least, the ruthless privatization—of religion, is clearly grounded in specific, often oversimplified, interpretations of Western historical developments since the eighteenth century. In this article, I use the case of the New Buddhist Fellowship (Shin Bukkyō Dōshikai 新仏教同志会) of the Meiji period (1868–1911) to query the category of the secular in the context of Japanese modernity. I argue that the New Buddhists, drawing on elements of classical and East Asian Buddhism as well as modern Western thought, promoted a resolutely social and this-worldly Buddhism that collapses—or preempts—the conceptual and practical boundaries between religion and the secular. In short, the New Buddhists sought a lived Buddhism rooted in a decidedly “immanent frame” (Taylor), even while rejecting the “vulgar materialism” of secular radicalism.