This panel aims to investigate multiple meanings and narratives of Buddhism in the lives of Buddhists themselves, and to contextualise them in the broader socio-economic and political frameworks that shape the contemporary realities of Buddhist communities and individuals.
In the past two decades, ethnographic studies have emerged as an important method of investigating contemporary Japanese Buddhism (Reader 2005; Covell 2005, Rowe 2007; Nelson 2013, Starling forthcoming). Recent panels at conferences (American Academy of Religion 2011; International Association of Buddhist Studies 2014) and workshops (University of Toronto - Numata Programme Conference "Anthropology of Buddhism" 2015; University of Vermont Conference "Buddhism, Humanities and Ethnographic Method") have begun to recognise a shift within scholarly approaches to Buddhism in the Japanese context and beyond. Ethnographically based studies, by enabling access to different kinds of knowledge, both challenge and complement the textual, historical and organisational frameworks, which still dominate the research into Japanese Buddhism. Whilst drawing on historical and textual studies, ethnographic approaches relocate the focus towards the contemporary and local realities of Buddhism as lived, experienced and produced by Buddhist actors. Ethnographic and local studies have also presented a new picture of Buddhism in contemporary Japanese context, drawing attention to issues of temple closures, declining membership and secularisation, that are rarely included in traditional studies of Buddhism. We propose to investigate multiple meanings and narratives of Buddhism in the lives of Buddhists themselves, and to contextualise them in the broader socio-economic and political frameworks that shape the contemporary realities of Buddhist communities and individuals. Therefore, this panel aims to explore the ways in which the ethnographic modes of enquiry enrich the knowledge produced by textual and historical approaches to studying Buddhism. By focusing on the qualitative and quantitative micro data stemming from ethnographic fieldwork and on individual case studies and life histories, the panel contributes to the emerging trend within the anthropology of Buddhism focusing on unpacking the local from the point of view of individuals. Thus, the panel aims to both broaden a discussion on the local narratives on Buddhism; and to explore how the ethnographic encounter shapes the researcher's understanding of knowledge it produces. The papers are concerned with exploring issues of gendered experiences of Buddhism, sustainability networks of Buddhist temples in rural communities, and the responses of religious practitioners to the changes brought in by depopulation.