Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan
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320pp. November 2013
Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan
Author: Nelson, John K.;
Winner of the 2014 Toshihide Numata Book Prize

Based on ethnographic fieldwork and archival research, it is one of the first studies to give readers a sense of what is happening on the front lines as a growing number of Buddhist priests try to reboot their roles and traditions to gain greater significance in Japanese society.

The book profiles innovative as well as controversial responses to the challenges facing Buddhist priests. From traditional activities (conducting memorial rituals; supporting residences for the elderly and infirm; providing relief for victims of natural disasters) to more creative ones (collaborating in suicide prevention efforts; holding symposia and concerts on temple precincts; speaking out against nuclear power following Japan’s 2011 earthquake; opening cafés, storefront temples, and pubs; even staging fashion shows with priests on the runway), more progressive members of Japan’s Buddhist clergy are trying to navigate a path leading towards renewed relevance in society. An additional challenge is to avoid alienating older patrons while trying to attract younger ones vital to the future of their temples.

The work’s central theme of “experimental Buddhism”provides a fresh perspective to understand how priests and other individuals employ Buddhist traditions in selective and pragmatic ways. Using these inventive approaches during a time of crisis and transition for Japanese temple Buddhism, priests and practitioners from all denominations seek solutions that not only can revitalize their religious traditions but also influence society and their fellow citizens in positive ways.

11 illus.

Topics in Contemporary Buddhism
Author: Nelson, John K.;
John K. Nelson is professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at theUniversity of San Francisco.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Series Editor’s Preface 
Acknowledgments 
Conventions 
Introduction 

1 Experimental Buddhism: Contexts and Trajectories 
2 Japanese Versions of Buddhism 
3 Social Welfare and Buddhist-Inspired Activism 
4 Four Prototypes of Experimental Buddhism 
5 Alternatives and Innovations in Buddhist Religious Practice 
6 The Future of Buddhism in Japan 

Appendix: Temples Visited 
Notes 
Works Cited 
Index 



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