Accepted paper:

Stuck in religion. Buddhist proselytising in secular Japan


Beata Świtek (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how the attempts to construct meaningful subjectivities by Japanese Buddhist priests, who are 'stuck' in their role of religious specialists, change Buddhist proselytising and forms of religious engagement in a secularised Japanese society.

Paper long abstract:

Buddhist temples in Japan are typically headed by male priests who take the position from their fathers. Such temples are similar to family businesses providing income and living quarters for the family. Should the head priest cease to fulfil his or her role, the family needs to relocate and seek new employment. The expectation that the children will take over rests, therefore, not only on the religious sense of mission, but also on the need to secure the family's material wellbeing. Whatever the aspirations of the young, they need to be recast or abandoned in light of these expectations. Becoming a Buddhist priest in Japan also means taking on a role that has lost much of its social resonance. Popular indifference and sometimes hostility towards one's self and what one stands for mark the wider social milieu in which Buddhist priests operate. In this context, those priests who might have chosen a different career had they not been born into a temple, find themselves 'stuck' in the position of a religious specialist in a society that does not have much interest in what they represent. How, then, do these priests move on with their lives and construct meaningful subjectivities both as religious specialists and as individuals with personal aspirations? How do their attempts at overcoming popular indifference change Buddhist proselytising and, more broadly, religious engagement in a secularised Japanese society? These questions are explored through an analysis of empirical research among Buddhist priests and laity in Tokyo between 2016 and 2017.

panel P112
Being stuck. Stillness in times of mobility