Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Buddhist Modernities: Re-inventing Tradition in the Globalizing Modern World

Publication Date

Spring 3-10-2017


Hannah Havnevik, Ute Hüsken, Mark Teeuwen, Vladimir Tikhonov, Koen Wellens




New York, NY


Routledge Series in Religion



First Page


Last Page



Comparative Humanities


Although New Buddhism is a term sometimes employed to refer to the broad sweep of reform and modernization movements in Japanese Buddhist thought and practice beginning in the 1870s, the term shin bukkyō refers more specifically to a broadly influential movement of some two dozen young scholars and lay Buddhists active in the last decade of the Meiji period (1868–1912). Founded in February 1899 as Bukkyō Seito Dōshikai (Buddhist Pure Believers Fellowship or Buddhist Puritan Association), the group changed its name to Shin Bukkyō Dōshikai (New Buddhist Fellowship) in 1903. Notto Thelle refers to the NBF as “the most consistent effort to propagate and organize the New Buddhism as a radical alternative to traditional Buddhism.” Just how radical is a question I explore here via an analysis of the life and work of Watanabe Kaikyoku (1872–1933), a founding member and leading figure within the NBF who, in contrast to the majority of his peers, elected to remain within a traditional (Pure Land) Buddhist institution. Along the way, this chapter explores the New Buddhist construction of (Buddhist) “modernity” in light of a distinctively modernistic understanding of the place of “society,” one that has clear affinities with contemporaneous developments in Western progressive thought and some forms of liberal Christianity, especially the Unitarian movement.