Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Modern Religion? The State, the People, and the Remaking of Buddhism in Urban China Today
by Jones, Alison Denton, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2010, 302; 3435577
Abstract (Summary)

Religion is back in Chinese cities. As state repression of religion has eased over the past few decades, religious leaders and regular lay people have been reconstructing religious institutions and building religious lives at an astonishing rate. Yet, we know little about how regular urban people negotiate the lingering restrictions on and critiques of religion to create satisfying religious lives. My dissertation examines the re-making of Buddhism in a single city as the conjunction of overlapping projects of modernity by the Chinese state, Buddhist institutions, and individual lay Buddhists. I argue that the place and form of religion in society has been, and continues to be, a central focus of Chinese projects of modernity.

Drawing on ten months of participant observation in Nanjing, PRC, and 45 in-depth interviews with lay Buddhists, I sketch the contours of Buddhism in Nanjing on institutional and individuals levels. The first chapter analyses the field of production of Buddhism in Nanjing, highlighting the tensions between establishing legitimacy with the state and serving lay Buddhists. The remaining chapters explore aspects of lay people's involvement with Buddhism: how do they get into Buddhism, how do they practice it, what do they get out of it, and how do they justify their Buddhist involvement to a sometimes hostile audience?

Throughout the dissertation, I focus on state interventions in the religious sphere as the most important factor structuring the shape of Buddhism as it reemerges in reform period China. Beyond the impact of state regulations on the institutional level of Buddhism, I argue that the state profoundly affects individual involvement in Buddhism for some lay Buddhists. Indoctrination in militant atheism creates distinctive pathways to Buddhism, packages of Buddhist practices, and strategies of justifying Buddhism. I develop the concept of "interaction settings" to link individuals' micro-level characteristics with meso-level institutional settings and macro-level public narratives like militant atheism. I argue that this institutional and cultural approach offers much-needed leverage for understanding how tradition, modernity, secularism, nationalism, and other metanarratives interact "on the ground" to shape Buddhism in China today…or to shape the place of religion in any society.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Whyte, Martin K.
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Asian Studies, Social research
Keywords: Buddhism, China
Publication Number: 3435577
ISBN: 978-1-124-34050-0
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