The Globalization of East Asian Religions in Comparative Perspective

What does it take for a religion to be global? Does it imply something deeper than the successful missionary effort of religious traditions and organisations? And, if yes, what kind of dynamics are at play when local religions try to reorient themselves within the complexity of global society? This project addresses these questions by focusing on the relativising effects of globalisation, that is, on the pressure that other religions, ideas circulating in the global cultural network, and other social systems (e.g., politics and science) exercise on Japanese religions and other religions. These different modalities of relativisation open the way to various forms of global repositioning (e.g., pluralism, glocalisation/hybridisation, and secularization), whose underlying factors are still in need of scholarly analysis and clarification.

Against this backdrop, the proposed research aims to 1) shed light on factors such as changes in consciousness, the perception of cultural resonances, and power issues that constrain religions’ adjustments to global society, at the intersection of globalisation studies, religious studies, psychology, sociology, and anthropology; 2) explore the working, scope, and practical implications of such factors in the case of the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), one of the largest Buddhist groups in the United States that is affiliated to the Hongwanji branch of Shin Buddhism (Jōdo Shinshū Hongwanji-ha), a mainstream form of traditional Japanese Buddhism; and 3) analyse cross-cultural similarities and differences between responses to globalisation offered by Japanese religions and those offered by other religions worldwide. This project aims to break new ground in the field of research on Japanese religions, in which the explanatory potential of full-scale globalisation theory is still largely overlooked. Through the conceptual analysis of the factors constraining the globalisation of religion, it also aims to provide a solid contribution to the theoretical study of religion in global society. And, finally, by examining cross-cultural correspondences, it aims to promote innovative research in the still underdeveloped comparative study of religion and globalisation.

The research project adopts a methodologically pluralist approach and will be developed in three stages. Stage 1 will rely on archival research and theoretical analysis from an interdisciplinary perspective. It will explore the role that transformations of consciousness, the perception of cultural resonances, and power issues play in the repositioning of religion within globalisation, and clarify the terminology used to define these concepts. Stage 2 will rely on qualitative research (fieldwork, data collection through in-depth interviews/participant observation, and document analysis) and the analysis of the ethnographic data. Stage 3 adopts a comparative design: the critical examination of a wide selection of studies on religion and globalization in traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism, and new religious movements will be aimed to highlight cross-cultural similarities/differences concerning the working of the factors under study.