Buddhism in Japan

Lori Meeks

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
Buddhism in Japan

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European missionaries and philologists undertook the earliest Western-language studies of Japanese Buddhism. In North America, the study of Japanese Zen gained popularity during the period before World War II, largely through the efforts of D. T. Suzuki. The establishment in the United States of Japanese studies centers during the postwar period, combined with the growth of religious studies departments in the 1950s and 1960s, has also played an essential role in the rise of Western-language research on Japanese Buddhism. Until recent decades, studies of Japanese Buddhism tended to focus on the Kamakura period (1186–1333 ce), which scholars once regarded as the era during which Japanese Buddhism became “Japanese.” Although researchers deconstructed this view in the 1980s, its legacy is still evident in the disproportionate number of studies focused on the founders and teachings of the more prominent of the “new schools” of Kamakura Buddhism: Pure Land, True Pure Land, Nichiren, and Zen. Linked to this scholarly admiration of the Kamakura period was a certain distaste for the periods that came before and after, especially the Heian (794–1185), early modern, or Tokugawa (1603–1868), modern, and contemporary periods. Before the Kamakura period, the accepted scholarly narrative held, Japanese Buddhism was an elite tradition unconcerned with the needs of commoners, and after the medieval period, it fell into a state of degeneracy. Over the past several decades scholars have challenged this narrative and have encouraged the study of neglected historical periods. Reflecting larger trends in the study of religion, early work on Japanese Buddhism also tended to focus on doctrine, scripture, and charismatic religious founders or leaders. As larger shifts in the humanities began to influence religious studies, literary, cultural, and social-historical studies of Japanese Buddhism became popular, especially during the 1990s and 2000s. This period also saw the expansion of local histories and site-specific studies, which ground the study of Japanese Buddhism in particular cultural and geographical contexts. In recent decades scholars have also confronted the largely anachronistic narratives of sectarian scholarship, which sought to locate the roots of modern Japanese sects in premodern history. New studies on combinatory practices and site-specific cults, for example, move beyond the sectarianism characterized by much early scholarship and also emphasize the historically constructed nature of categories such as “Buddhism” and “Shinto.” This bibliography begins with the basics: General Overviews, Digital Resources, and Primary Sources in Translation. From there, works have been organized thematically rather than chronologically, with one exception: studies of Modern and Contemporary Buddhism have been grouped together.

Article.  10823 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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