Accepted paper:

The denominationalisation and conglomeratisation of Chinese Buddhism

Authors:

Adam Yuet Chau (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will examine factors contributing to two particular trends in the development of Buddhism in today’s Taiwan and China: denominationalisation and conglomeratisation. I will also make comparisons to religious developments in other Asian contexts to draw out broader theoretical lessons.

Paper long abstract:

The modern, reformed forms of Buddhism, much inspired by Protestant models of denominational congregationism and proselytising and social-service outreach (and often first re-worked in Japan in the late 19th century and early 20th century by Japanese Buddhist orders and Buddhist-inspired new religions), have become increasingly influential in today's Taiwan and mainland China. This paper will examine factors contributing to two particular trends: denominationalisation and conglomeratisation. Going against the traditional efficacy- and ritual-based model of 'doing Buddhism', many Buddhist organisations are actively promoting a denomination-like Buddhism that features the focalisation of symbolic attention upon a charismatic founder-leader; the mobilisation of an active lay devotee population (instituting membership and a sense of belonging); the subdivision of the lay devotee population into niche groups and task groups; the rationalisation and bureaucratisation of organisational structure and management; the expansion into various non-religious sectors even when the motivation is clothed in religious terms (e.g. building and running hospitals and schools, including universities; disaster relief; reuse and recycling; elderly care; medical research and supply, e.g. bone marrow and organ donation, human cadaver donation for medical research purposes; entertainment; publishing; etc.). I will explore the broader socio-political factors as well as the religious groups' institutional logics that have led to such developments. One enabling factor is the religious groups' ability to develop ever elaborate institutional and epistemological apparatuses to accommodate the participation of an increasingly wider variety of people. I will also make comparisons to religious developments in other Asian contexts to draw out broader theoretical lessons.

panel P71
Anthropologies of Buddhism and Hinduism