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Article

Christopher Bell

Tibetans engage with a panoply of divinities and spirits in their daily lives and ritual activities. The word “demon” does not capture the sheer breadth and diversity of these beings because there is a rich assortment of distinct spirit types that cause illnesses, guard against calamities, or possess human mediums to provide clairvoyant advice. While comprehensiveness is impossible, a representative demonology is valuable by offering a foundation for further exploration. Most Tibetan spirits are capricious or overtly pernicious and require oracles, diviners, tantrikas, and other religious specialists to ward off or harness their power. The gods and spirits of Tibet also fit loosely into ontological categories along a larger spectrum that includes enlightened beings, transcendent deities, worldly gods, and fierce demons. The boundaries between these categories are often porous, especially when it comes to aligning certain spirits with buddhas, bodhisattvas, or wrathful deities of the land. For Buddhism and Bön, the two major religious traditions of Tibet, there are specific protector deities with robust mythologies and liturgical corpora that are frequently propitiated and revered in order to maintain these religions both materially and spiritually. Interacting with such divinities often takes the form of oracular ceremonies or image consecrations and offerings. The practices may vary dramatically between spiritual lineages and regions, but the overall concept is rooted in interacting with these powerful forces to effect social, communal, and individual change. In Tibet, spirits are potentially dangerous, but they also offer diverse opportunities for personal advancement and religious enrichment.

Article

Rebecca Moore

Although new religions have a reputation for being intrinsically violent, research shows that they are no more aggressive than the world’s major religious traditions. Memes in popular culture tend to stigmatize adherents of these marginalized groups because of their unusual clothing, habits, lifestyles, and beliefs. Rather than employing the neutral term “new religious movement” (or NRM), journalists and others often use the pejorative label “cults.” Nevertheless, violent outbursts involving members of NRMs have exploded at moments of crisis—or perceived crisis—throughout history. Scholars attempting to identify the factors involved in these eruptions have determined that external as well as internal elements dynamically collide to create conditions that precipitate violent outcomes. Internal causes may include apocalyptic beliefs, charismatic leadership, and social encapsulation. A few groups may develop a worldview that justifies, or even welcomes, the use of violence; they may stockpile weapons for self-defense or develop plans to prepare for a final reckoning. External influences include provocative, aggressive, or combative actions by government authorities prompted by news media and cultural opponents comprising family members and professional anticultists. This outside pressure may trigger violent measures within the group, as leaders and members tighten social controls, quash dissent, and demand unquestioning loyalty in the face of opposition. Since violence is a social relationship in which the actions of each opponent serve to shape the responses of the other, destructive interactions with new religious groups are not inevitable. They may be forestalled when dangerous situations are adequately identified and intelligently addressed through careful investigation, patience, and well-managed negotiations.

Article

Khairudin Aljunied

Islam has maintained its presence in Southeast Asia for more than a millennium, dating back to as early as the 7th century. By the 21st century, the estimated total of Muslims surpassed 240 million, making Southeast Asia a site that is populated by one of the largest Muslim communities on the planet. Muslims are majorities in 21st-century Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In other Southeast Asian countries, namely Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, and Vietnam, they remain as minorities, experiencing varying levels of integration and assimilation with the majority non-Muslim Buddhist or Christian populations. The massive though gradual spread of Islam in the region can be attributed to the generally peaceful, multifaceted, and creative ways by which Islam was infused into the everyday life of local societies. Traders, Sufi missionaries, scholars, rulers, and even non-Muslims have all contributed to the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia. Most Muslims in Southeast Asia are Sunnis, adhering to the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence, Ash’ari theology, and Sufi ethics. Located within this cosmopolitan and diverse religious landscape are Muslims who belong to other schools of Islamic jurisprudence and theological leanings such as Hanafi, Ja’fari, Shi’ah, and Salafi. Viewed from the perspective of the longue durée (long duration), the venture of Islam in Southeast Asia can be divided into four successive phases: gradualist (7th–14th centuries), populist (15th–19th centuries), colonial-reformist (19th–mid-20th centuries), and assertive (mid-20th–21st centuries).

Article

Eric Kurlander

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) always had a complicated relationship with religion, emblematic of the diverse völkisch movement out of which the NSDAP emerged. This relationship became even more complicated during the later years of the Weimar Republic as the party grew larger and attracted millions of new supporters from Protestant as well as Catholic regions. The NSDAP’s attitude toward the Christian churches was nonetheless ambivalent, swinging from co-optation to outright hostility. This ambivalence was founded in part on a pragmatic recognition of Church power and the influence of Christianity across the German population, but it simultaneously reflected an ideological rejection of Judeo-Christian values that a number of Nazi leaders saw as antithetical to National Socialism. Many Nazis therefore sought religious alternatives, from Nordic paganism and a “religion of nature” to a German Christianity led by a blond, blue-eyed Aryan Jesus. This complex mélange of Christian and alternative faiths included an abiding interest in “Indo-Aryan” (Eastern) religion, tied to broader ideological assumptions regarding the origins of the Aryan race in South Asia. Ultimately, there was no such thing as an official “Nazi religion.” To the contrary, the regime explored, embraced, and exploited diverse elements of (Germanic) Christianity, Ario-Germanic paganism, and Indo-Aryan religions endemic to the völkisch movement and broader supernatural imaginary of the Wilhelmine and Weimar period.

Article

Scholars have long recognized the transformative impact that colonialism had on Buddhist institutions, identities, thought, and practice. The period marked the rise of politicized identities linking Buddhism to anti-colonial nationalist movements alongside boisterous discussions about reforming Buddhism to its “innate” humanistic, scientific core. For many decades, histories of Buddhism under colonialism generally subscribed to a singular narrative in which colonial forces leveled such monumental changes that almost all forms of modern Buddhism were seen as derivative of ideologies introduced by Western colonial regimes. These narratives, however, only tell some of the story. Beginning in the last decades of the 20th century, scholarship has increasingly shown how Buddhists responded in a multitude of ways to colonial influence. There was resistance and collusion as well as instances where colonial systems had only minimal impact. Numerous ideas about Buddhism which for most of the 20th century were taken for granted—that the text is closer to “true” Buddhism than contemporary practice, that texts composed in “classical” languages are more authoritative than those in the vernacular, that Buddhism is not really a religion at all but more like a science of the mind or philosophy, that Buddhism is less ritualistic and more rational than other religious traditions, and so on—have their roots in the colonial encounter with Buddhism. Any student wishing to understand the place of Buddhism during the colonial period must consider the multiple trajectories and plural histories rather than singular, monolithic narratives.

Article

The history of Muslim populations in Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union is long and varied. In a Pew–Templeton poll conducted in Russia in 2010, 10 percent of respondents stated that their religion was Islam, while Muslims also make up a majority of the population in six post-Soviet republics: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Muslims have long lived in regions across Russia, with far-flung communities ranging from distant outposts of Siberia to western cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were more Muslims in the Russian Empire than there were in Iran or the Ottoman Empire, the two largest independent Muslim-majority states in the world at the time. Historically, the Muslim communities of Russia have been concentrated in four main regions: the Volga–Ural region in central Russia, the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. While Muslim communities across former Soviet space share both differences and similarities with one another with regard to language and religious practices, their respective relations with the various Russian states that have existed over the years have varied. Moreover, Russian and Soviet policymaking toward all of these communities has shifted considerably from one era, and one ruler, to another. Throughout the imperial and Soviet eras, and extending into the post-Soviet era up to the present day, therefore, the existence of variations with regard to both era and region remains one of the most enduring legacies of Muslim–state interactions. Muslims in Russia vary by traditions, language, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and practices, and with respect to their historical interactions with the Russian state. The four historically Muslim-inhabited regions were incorporated into the Russian state at different points during its imperial history, often under quite sharply contrasting sets of conditions. Today most, but not all, Muslims in Russia and the rest of the former USSR are Sunni, although the manner and degree to which religion is practiced varies greatly among both communities and individuals. With respect to language, Muslim communities in Russia have traditionally been dominated demographically by Turkic speakers, although it should be noted that most Turkic languages are not mutually comprehensible in spoken form. In the North Caucasus and Tajikistan, the most widely spoken indigenous languages are not Turkic, although in these areas there are Turkic-speaking minorities. Another important feature of Muslim–state interactions in Russia is their connection to Muslims and Muslim-majority states beyond Russia’s borders. Throughout the imperial era, Russia’s foreign policymaking vis-à-vis the Ottoman Empire and Iran was often intimately connected to domestic policymaking toward Muslim communities inside Russia. While this was a less pronounced feature of Moscow’s foreign policymaking during the Soviet era, in the post-Soviet era, policymaking toward Muslims domestically has once again become more closely linked to Russia’s foreign policy goals.

Article

Monica Sanford and Nathan Jishin Michon

Buddhist chaplaincy is a profession in which Buddhists with specialized training care for the spiritual needs of suffering individuals (careseekers), typically within non-religious settings such as hospitals, hospices, military, workplaces, or universities. Although the roots of spiritual care date back to the beginning of the Buddhist traditions, professionalized Buddhist chaplaincy is a very recent phenomenon. Despite some beginnings in the mid-20th century, most developments have occurred rapidly only within the 21st century. This contemporary movement is occurring in numerous places around the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia, covering a wide range of countries, cultures, and Buddhist traditions. The profession of chaplaincy was originally a Christian vocation but began expanding to serve the needs of multireligious careseekers and train caregivers of various religious backgrounds in the 20th century. Thus, while chaplaincy is now a profession open to all comers, including Buddhists, humanists, and atheists, many of the educational, training, and professional standards for certification or licensing are still normed against Christian expectations and legacy organizational structures, particularly in North America, Europe, and the British Commonwealth. In the countries where Buddhist chaplaincy is flourishing in the early 21st century, different groups are developing degree programs, training opportunities, and professional expectations that accord with their local regulatory bodies and other forms of existing chaplaincy certification. In Asian nations, Buddhists are stepping forward to build standards for providing spiritual care in the context of cultural institutions that are not typically religious (e.g., hospitals and schools). Diverse settings and differing requirements lead to distinctions between Buddhist chaplaincy in different countries. However, some of the core competencies for spiritual care are very consistent: compassion, listening, ritual proficiency, cultural understanding, and reflection. Buddhist and non-Buddhist chaplains alike agree to a fundamental skill set to care for people who are suffering in the various institutions where they work and volunteer. Distinctions between Buddhist and other forms of spiritual care are based on the care model employed, whether strictly co-religionist (i.e., Buddhists caring for Buddhists) or interfaith (i.e., Buddhists caring for all). In the latter case, professional chaplains (of any religion) are trained to provide spiritual care from the spiritual or religious worldview of the careseeker. As such, most Buddhist chaplains must possess basic knowledge and competency in many world religions. Nevertheless, Buddhist spiritual care may be distinct in its theory (Dharma based) and place more emphasis on mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative techniques to benefit both careseekers and chaplains. Spiritual care that is “Dharma-based” means based on the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, and/or the Buddhist traditions and teacher who followed after him. This includes a broad range of texts and teachings across the Buddhist world. As an emerging field, there is little literature on Buddhist chaplaincy, so it is currently somewhat difficult to say what theories and practices will come to dominate the profession.

Article

From the late 1970s to its defeat by the Government of Sri Lanka in 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for Tamil independence in Sri Lanka. The ultimate aim of what was often considered to be one of the world’s most disciplined and efficient insurgency groups was to create an independent Tamil homeland (which they called Tamil Eelam) in the northern and eastern parts of the island. The LTTE based itself on a unique mix of Tamil nationalist, socialist, and feminist visions of a new future for the marginalized Tamil communities of Sri Lanka. The LTTE became feared for its extensive use of suicide missions, carried out by soldiers of both Hindu and Catholic backgrounds. Because of the marginalization of the Tamil-speaking Muslims from the Tamil nationalist project, none of the LTTE soldiers were Muslims. Generally speaking, religion played—and in the 21st century continues to play—a minor role in the ultimate nationalist goal of establishing Tamil Eelam. Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka centers around Tamil culture, language, literature, and regional identity, not religion. The LTTE’s official ideology was strictly secularist, expressing a clear separation between religion, the state, and politics. The LTTE accepted individual religious practices in its ranks—for example, having a personal crucifix or a holy picture within military camps, but did not facilitate institutionalized religious practice. Yet religious formations, controversies, and practices have been important, if not crucial, to Tamil separatism and, ultimately, to the LTTE itself. In a short period of time, the LTTE developed a unique martial culture and martyr cult, drawing on numerous cultural and religious sources in Tamil society. This martyr cult encompassed references to the Christian tradition of martyrdom, Hindu bhakti (devotional) literature, and classic Tamil heroic poetry. Each martyr’s self-sacrifice formed part of a symbolic universe that was fundamentally nationalistic, but Christian and Hindu references and ritual language were employed to help to legitimize the sacrificial act. The ideology of martyrdom transcended the martyrs’ religious backgrounds, and instead of a place in paradise or release from the cycle of reincarnation, it promised eternal life in the memory of the nation. Within the cultural and political universe of the LTTE, the nation and its territory became sacralized, and the LTTE’s meticulously articulated martial culture began to take on quasi-religious qualities. At the ideological level, the LTTE propaganda machinery managed to balance secularism, deep religious sentiment, and religious diversity, and religion functioned as a multilayered concept used for a variety of purposes by military and political leaders. Religion can also be identified as various “fields” within the movement: “civil religious,” “Śaiva religious,” and “Tamil Catholic religious,” allowing for overlapping yet distinct Hindu, Catholic, or nonreligious identities under the sacred canopy of Tamil nationalism.

Article

Elisabetta Porcu

Buddhism has been a missionary religion from its beginning. Japan was among the countries where this “foreign” religion arrived and was assimilated, adapted, and reshaped into new forms specifically connected to the new geographical and cultural environment. Buddhism traveled long distances from India through China and Korea, bringing with it flows of people, ideas, technologies, material cultures, and economies. More than ten centuries after its arrival in Japan, the first phase of propagation of Japanese Buddhism started and was linked to the history of Japanese migrants to Hawaii, North America, and Brazil since the 19th century. This was a history of diaspora, a term that implies not only the physical—and often traumatic—dispersion of people who left their homes for unknown places, but also a reconfiguration of their identities through the adaptation to these new places and their cultures. The main role of Buddhist priests sent from Japan was to assist and provide comfort to the newly formed communities of migrant laborers, who very often experienced racial discrimination and lived under harsh conditions. Temples became important loci of Japanese community life, as well as centers for the preservation of Japanese culture. Diasporic communities felt the urge to keep a bond with the homeland and a reconnection with some past traditions, while, at the same time, striving toward integration in the new society. Japanese Buddhist denominations in diasporic communities had therefore to accommodate different needs and adjust their teachings and practices to better suit their host cultures. Some of them underwent substantial changes, while others placed more emphasis on some practices instead of others. Moreover, Japanese Buddhist schools had to find a way to balance between their traditional role in Japan, which was—and still is—closely related to funerary rituals and memorials, and the new stimuli and requests coming from the new generations of Japanese migrants (nisei and sansei) and the non-Japanese spiritual seekers, the latter mostly interested in meditative practices and not in funeral Buddhism. In short, what needed to be done was to overcome a status of “ethnic” religion without, however, losing its own identity.

Article

The Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora refer to overlapping geographic and historical concepts each representing a complex series of dispersals, connections and reconnections, interactions, engagements and disengagements, and conflicts. As a geographic, spatial, and historical subset of the African Diaspora, the Black Atlantic refers to the sustained contacts and connections among the peoples of Atlantic Africa, Europe, and the Americas beginning with the “Age of Reconnaissance” (1306–1484) and the “Age of Contact” (1482–1621) and extending into the present. One of the first acts in the creation of the Black Atlantic can be located within the story of Mansa Qu, Islamic emperor and explorer from the western Sudanic empire of Mali, who commissioned two oceanic voyages to discover the western extent of the Atlantic between 1307 and 1311. Reconnaissance expeditions of this sort, launched by both Atlantic Africans and later by Iberians in the 14th and 15th centuries, helped create knowledge networks and webs of interconnections that would become critical to the later formation of the Black Atlantic. At the core of many of these earlier efforts to explore the world around them were the religious pursuits and goals—both Christian and Islamic—on the part of Atlantic Africans and Iberians. Delegations of Christian monks and pilgrims from Ethiopia visited the Italian peninsula, Iberia, and other parts of Europe beginning in 1306 seeking pan-Christian alliances against common Muslim foes. These early delegations fueled later Iberian imaginations about the existence of Prester John—an eastern defender of Christendom believed by the early 15th century to preside over an East African kingdom. In part, the protracted search for the mythical Prester John in Africa by the Portuguese after 1415 set in motion sustained contacts between Iberia and Atlantic Africa highlighted by the creation of Iberian-African settlements along the Atlantic African coast and in the Atlantic Islands, the transfer of enslaved labor to the Americas via the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the beginnings of sugar plantations and slave societies in the Caribbean and Brazil by the mid-16th century. Centuries of sustained contact of this nature spawned a range of cultural formations, the processes of ethnogenesis, and the creation of new transnational identities in the littoral regions and beyond of the four continents that frame the Atlantic Ocean. Creolization, the unique confluence of Atlantic cultures, served as the foundation for reinvented peoples across the Western Hemisphere who remembered, activated, and re-created “Africa” while attending to New World realities of racial slavery and hierarchy. This process of creolization created a range of ethnocultural permutations, from Atlantic Creoles to a wide array of neo-African ethnic groups in the Americas (e.g., Eboes, Coromantees, Congos, Nâgos, and Lucumís). Within this diverse cultural matrix and the processes of cultural mixing, religious and spiritual worldviews were among the most significant articulations of Black Atlantic and creole cultures. Indeed, there is no other way to decode the intricacies of Cuban Santería, Brazilian Candomblé, Haitian Voudou, New Orleans Hoodoo, Jamaican Myalism, or Obeah without framing them in the context of the cultural negotiations among many Atlantic African peoples made necessary by the suffocating confines of racial slavery and more recent socio-racial hierarchies embedded within Western Hemisphere colonialism, Jim Crow in the United States, and other manifestations of white supremacy