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The Religious Program of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace  

Barend ter Haar

The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (taiping tianguo太平天國) was a major religious movement that caused a civil war in 19th-century China with a devastating impact on the then Qing dynasty empire. It was shaped by the 1837 visions of the Hakka literatus Hong Xiuquan 洪秀全 (1814–1864), in which he received an assignment from the Heavenly Father (his version of the Christian God) to clear the world of demons. These were initially identified as the ruler of the underworld, ancestors, or local deities; later they came to be identified as the Manchus of the ruling Qing dynasty. Hong was influenced by early missionary texts by Protestant missionaries of English and German backgrounds. An equally important event was the appearance in 1848 of Yang Xiuqing 楊秀清 (c. 1820–1856), who successfully claimed that the Heavenly Father regularly descended in him to give instructions to the movement’s following, including Hong himself. In the same year, another man claimed to be the almost equally important voice of Jesus as the savior of the world. Thanks to the rich body of texts produced by the movement itself, a lot is known about the voices of Yang Xiuqing and his colleague but also about the movement’s interpretations of early 19th-century Western Protestantism. Central narratives were the story of Moses, who led the chosen people out of Egypt to the promised land; the death of Jesus on the cross to carry the sins of humankind; and, of course, the visions of Hong Xiuquan and the descent of the Heavenly Father and Jesus into human vessels. The story of Moses probably formed the crucial inspiration for the long trek of the movement from the Guangxi province in the far south to the central Chinese city and former capital of Nanjing on the Yangzi River. The historiography around the movement is extremely diverse, with Chinese communist and nationalist versions but also extensive English language writing. Some scholars stress the Christian dimension, whereas others would stress the combination of indigenous interpretations of Christian texts against a local religious background. Central among the indigenous influences is the conception of the world as filled with demonic beings who can and should be expelled by means of violence, using a sword and a seal.

Article

Rahman, Fazlur  

Ebrahim Moosa

Fazlur Rahman was a preeminent 20th-century Muslim scholar who combined modernism with tradition. He saw his role as that of shaping the study of Islam in the modern Western academy with the empathy of a believer and a critical scholarly acumen. Grounded in philosophy, theology, history, and moral thought, he advocated for a reinterpretation of the early sources of Islamic learning—emphasizing, for example, the more organic Sunnah instead of the atomistic prophetic reports in the form of ḥadīth. Critical of some aspects of the transmitted discursive tradition, he nevertheless viewed tradition as indispensable to the renewal of Islamic thought. He placed the Qurʾān and his specific hermeneutic of the historicized thematics of the revelation at the center of his renewal and reform project. While he took history seriously, in the end a scripture-centered hermeneutic became his preferred discursive framework.

Article

The Expansion of African American Muslim Movements beyond the United States  

Philipp Bruckmayr

Following the emergence of a variety of African American Muslim movements in the United States since the 1920s, Islam began to spread among African American and African Caribbean communities in a number of states in the Americas and the Caribbean as well as in Great Britain. There is little evidence for the expansion of early African American Muslim movements, such as the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam (NOI), beyond the United States in the first decades of their existence, but the process gained traction in the second half of the 20th century. By the 1970s, different originally US-based African American Muslim movements had acquired followings in Canada, England, and various Caribbean and South American states. These included not only the NOI, and its successor organization, the World Community of al-Islam in the West (later known as the American Society of Muslims), but also the Islamic Mission to America, the Dar-ul-Islam movement, the Ansaaru Allah Community, and the Islamic Party in North America. In addition, African Americans and African Caribbeans in different countries embraced Islam on a more individual basis, inspired by famous African American Muslims, such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. This transnational expansion of African American Islam represents a conversion process among African-descended populations, which has radiated not from the Muslim world but the United States across the western hemisphere and into Europe. Despite the international connections of some of the concerned movements, African American and African Caribbean Muslim communities outside the United States initially exhibited only limited discursive and personal links to either the Muslim world or established local Muslim communities of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern descent. By the 1980s, however, many of the US-based movements were in a state of disarray and disintegration. As a result, the ties of African American and African Caribbean Muslims to the United States were weakened and local tendencies toward emancipation from US organizations and models intensified. Concomitantly, at least in some locations, interactions with larger and longer-established local Muslim communities of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and/or Middle Eastern descent increased. Another major development during the period was the general growing exposure to transnational impulses from the Muslim world, particularly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Iran, and South Asia. Against this background, African American and African Caribbean Muslim communities outside the United States have embarked on various paths of transformation, including toward more widely recognized Sunni (including Salafi) and Shiite expressions of Islam. Many communities have nevertheless retained a distinctly Afro-centric character, either in orientation or just in membership, without subscribing to a racialist theology. Notable cases in point are Trinidad’s Jamaat al-Muslimeen, the Afro-Colombian Shiite community of Buenaventura, and Suriname’s Sadaqatul Islam, as well as London’s Salafi Brixton Mosque. Individual African American and African Caribbean Muslim scholars and leaders, such as the Trinidadian Shiite Shaykh Ahmed Haneef or the Jamaican Jihadist preacher Abdullah el-Faisal, have, however, acquired followings and influence extending way beyond African-descended constituencies. Arguably, the most well-known African Caribbean scholar to date is the Jamaica-born Bilal Philips, one of the key figures of Salafi preaching in English.

Article

Buddhism and Bioethics  

Jens Schlieter

In the wake of the globalization of modern Western biomedicine and bioethics, Buddhists felt the need for moral action-guides that provide orientation in ethical dilemmas posed by modern biomedicine. Thus, in the 1980s, Asian Buddhists began to develop distinct Buddhist moral action-guides on issues of selective abortion, stem cell research, genetic enhancement, brain death and organ transplantation from brain-dead donors, and physician-assisted suicide. From the 1990s onward, they were joined by a growing number of Western scholars. Buddhist ethicists emphasize the importance of starting from venture points considerably distinct from Western bioethics: Firstly, they are traditionally less concerned with human dignity and human rights. Instead, with a focus on salvific cultivation, karma, and nonviolence, they predominantly reflect the moral quality of the actor’s intentions, leading to additional suffering in this life or the next. Secondly, bioethics, in harmony with Buddhist ethics in general, is understood as moral cultivation, which puts less emphasis on justification of ethics than on the quality of actual actions. Thirdly, on the one hand Buddhist bioethical reasoning includes aspects such as the harmful “self-centeredness,” while on the other hand it declares compassion to be the core value, including an awareness of the universal interdependence of all forms of sentient existence. In the 1980s, pioneering scholars of Buddhist bioethics Shōyō Taniguchi and Pinit Ratanakul began to outline ethical foundations of Buddhist bioethics. While both suggested that Buddhist ethics are in principle capable of providing orientation in all forms of bioethical dilemmas, their approaches differed considerably, for example regarding the duty of doctors to disclose fatal diagnoses. Dissent on this duty, which is emphasized by Ratanakul but relativized by Taniguchi, reflects not only cultural differences but also the latter’s inclusion of Mahāyāna Buddhist ethics of the bodhisattva’s “skillful means.” Based on a famous Western approach, Ratanakul was the first to outline a system of four principles or duties of Buddhist bioethical reasoning: veracity, noninjury to life (ahiṃsā), justice, and compassion (karuṇā). However, it was a Western scholar, Damien Keown, who in 1995 presented the first book-length treatise to cover almost all major bioethical issues, from embryo research to euthanasia for the terminally ill. Keown argued for a neo-Aristotelian virtue-ethics approach and distilled three basic goods from Buddhist canonical texts. This helped to modernize and transform Buddhist ethics into an operational system of Buddhist bioethics. It is argued that there is an equivalent to human dignity in Buddhism, namely the infinite capacity to participate in goodness, or the potential to reach buddhahood. In this vein, the function of human rights lies in providing a suitable environment for individuals to gradually realize this potentiality. Well into the new millennium, more works on Buddhist ethics appeared in which Western scholars of Buddhism included Tibetan Mahāyāna ethical reasoning (Karma Lekshe Tsomo), reconstrued Buddhist ethics as consequentialism (Charles Goodman), or explored the global variety of Buddhist ethical reasoning (Peter Harvey). Probably the most important contemporary controversy in Buddhist bioethics pertains to the question whether killing out of compassion can in certain circumstances be justified. According to a traditional evaluation of cetanā (intention), it has been argued that the intention to kill cannot coexist with a compassionate intention, whereas others concluded that in regard to both embryonic life and the treatment of terminally ill patients there is room for ethically justifiable options. During the 2010s the global as well as Buddhist discourse on bioethics saw a certain consolidation, but will likely gain momentum again—for example, should genome-edited babies become common practice.

Article

Transnational Jihadi Movements  

Mona Sheikh and Saer El-Jaichi

Transnational jihadi movements are defined by their transnational appeal and demands, their reaction against external interventions and call for Muslim autonomy, and their network-like organization. These movements perceive jihad—in terms of an armed struggle—to be a (neglected) duty incumbent upon all Muslims, regardless of their national affiliation. The global jihadi movement has had two organizational manifestations: al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State movement. Al-Qaeda first appeared on the global stage in the 1990s as a local recruitment bureau for the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Cold War. Islamic State appeared in the 2000s, initially as an Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda in the context of the country’s political turmoil in 2001–2003, later developing into a separate expansionist movement that took territorial control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. Though Islamic State lost its territorial control in 2018, it is still active across different regions, much like al-Qaeda. Regional branches of both organizations are at times reliant on a centralized authority, but more often they are local movements that have declared loyalty to the agenda of the al-Qaeda or Islamic State. The worldview of transnational jihadi movements is framed and defined by geopolitical events that took place in the Middle East from the 1960s onward. The movements appear with a defensive anticolonial ethos against foreign intervention and interference, but also with offensive ambitions of establishing a transnational caliphate. Though Islamic State has a sectarian agenda largely defined against Shia Muslims, both contemporary movements are driven by the belief that God’s sovereignty is threatened, that the United States and the West are an enemy of Muslims along with apostate Muslim regimes, and that Islam needs to be purified from disbelief. Tactical and interpretive differences regarding the definition of disbelief, the right timing of establishing the caliphate, and fighting the near enemy (apostate regimes) or the far enemy (the United States and the West) have caused divisions among the transnational jihadi movements.

Article

Global Buddhism  

Jens Reinke

The notion of a global Buddhism refers to the many ways in which Buddhism in its plurality plays out under, as well as is taking part in, the conditions of globalization. The relationship between Buddhism and globalization is complex and multifaceted. The English terms religion and Buddhism as generic categories are in fact themselves a product of globalization, particularly in its earlier, colonial phase. But colonialism has not only produced increased transnational exchanges and connections between the colonized countries of Asia and the West, it has also facilitated enhanced connectivity and mutual awareness among the different Buddhist traditions within Asia. Modernist Asian Buddhists actively negotiated the global flows of colonial modernity and applied them to their own agenda, thereby shaping the emergence of modern national Buddhist traditions. In the second half of the 20th century, the economic and political restructuring of the globe and the resulting liberalization of migration laws in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia facilitated the global expansion of nationalized Asian Buddhist traditions. The growing tourism industry, but also the emergence of counterculture movements in the West, led at the same time to the increased popularization of Buddhism in non-Asian cultural contexts. From the late 20th century on, ongoing global and inner-Asian exchange and integration, together with the development of the Internet and the diversification of mass media, further continue to shape the globalization of Buddhism. Buddhism, as it is practiced in the 21st century, is a producer of globalization, while it is at the same time a product of globalization.

Article

Christian Dominionism and Violence  

James Aho

There are several forms of Christian Dominionism. However, all of them advocate “taking America back for God,” which is to say, from “non-Christians” (however understood), undocumented aliens, “sexual deviants,” “femi-Nazis,” liberal progressives, and the like. To be sure, most individual Dominionists and most Dominionist congregations are not violent. Nevertheless, some are. This is not because these few are ignorant, isolated, or insane, but rather because they reside in a particular kind of social/cultural milieu, one that normatively encourages them to harm others (in the name of their god) and offers them opportunities to do so, and where they are not subject to external restraints that might otherwise deter them from acting out their supremacist proclivities. One implication of this is that in order to avert Dominionist-motivated violence, policymakers must do more than merely criticize Dominionist theology—as important as this may be. Additionally, they must deal with local normative expectations that embolden potential terrorists and provide them easy access to high-powered weaponry. They must also protect vulnerable, marginalized populations from being targeted and step up law-enforcement vigilance and preparedness.

Article

The Economics of Buddhism  

Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg

The economics of Buddhism brings to the fore a conundrum with which Buddhists have had to contend since the time of the Buddha: how should Buddhists engage in economic activity in order to provide for their individual lifestyles and the Buddhist monasteries that support Buddhism? The widespread image of a monk or nun sitting deep in meditation in a cave may exemplify a religion that values nonattachment to materiality and disengagement with economic action. However, when looking more closely at how Buddhist monastics maintain these austere lifestyles, one sees a complex Buddhist economic engagement throughout the history of Buddhism. The economics of Buddhism examines how Buddhists must necessarily engage in economic relations not only to support their lifestyles, but also to establish and expand Buddhist institutions across the world. A large part of Buddhist economic engagement involves an economy of merit. Buddhists have been dependent on dāna, a system of donation and sponsorship, that has aided the building and expansion of Buddhism since the time of the Buddha. This merit-based economy involves a system of exchange in which virtuous actions such as generosity are rewarded with an accumulation of merit (puñña), leading to beneficial circumstances in this life or the next life to come. Based on this system of exchange, monks and nuns receive remuneration from the lay community for their services. It is due to this merit economy that monks and nuns have been able to pursue a monastic lifestyle and monasteries have been built, some of which have become economic epicenters for the surrounding community. Historically, large monasteries across Asia have acquired large plots of land, accumulated large storehouses of grains and goods, and engaged in various other economic endeavors, such as lending money, running businesses, hiring laborers, and so forth. In order to maintain these at times very large Buddhist institutions that have supported monks and nuns, and in essence the survival of Buddhism, this system of exchange—money for merit—has been a crucial aspect of Buddhism. Since the time of the Buddha, the spread and survival of Buddhism has been reliant on economic exchanges and the economic environment of the time. This is very much the case in the early 21st century, with the spread of global capitalism affecting how Buddhist images, goods, and services have been adopted and altered in new environments. For example, with changing economic conditions and the rise of the consumer society, Buddhist monasteries have found new sources of income, such as through tourism. Global sentiments regarding Buddhism as primarily positive, furthermore, have led to the proliferation of Buddhist-inspired objects for sale in the mass consumer society. Instead of seeing Buddhist economic engagement as a paradox, or hypocrisy even, when looking closely at how Buddhism and economic relations are necessarily entwined, one sees a complex relationship that provides the basis for the survival and spread of Buddhism worldwide.

Article

Dance, Religion, and the Legacy of European Colonialism  

Kimerer LaMothe

In the waning days of the Renaissance, the race among Western Europeans to control, convert, and displace Indigenous peoples around the globe precipitated a collision of cultures, unprecedented in scope, between Christians who largely denied dance a constitutive role in religious life and Indigenous traditions from Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas for whom dancing and religion were inseparable. In the economic, political, and cultural conflicts that ensued, the practice of dancing as religion emerged as a contested site—both a nearly universal target of Christian imperial and colonial oppression, and an equally frequent agent of Indigenous resistance, resilience, and creative response. Focusing on the United States, this article documents how European colonization of Native American people, and European and American enslavement of Africans precipitated cultural shifts in how each of these cultures conceived and practiced “dancing” in relation to “religion.” Among European and Euro-American colonizers, these collisions fueled some of the most virulent expressions of hostility toward dancing in Christian history—as an activity punishable by death—especially when that dancing appeared in the form of Native American or African American religion. Nevertheless, Native American and African American dancing also inspired Euro-American artists to create techniques and aesthetics of dance that they claimed functioned as religion. Such cases of religious art-dance in turn not only catalyzed the use of dancing in Christian worship, they spurred Western philosophers, scholars of religion, and Christian theologians to reconsider the importance of dancing for the study and practice of religion, Christianity included. Meanwhile, Native and African peoples, as they navigated the challenges of ongoing racism and oppression, created new forms of their own dance traditions. Some of these forms emerged in explicit dialogue with Christian forms and even in Christian contexts; and others have appeared on secular concert stages, representing ongoing efforts to preserve and perpetuate Native and African identity, spirituality, creativity, and agency. These projects are dismantling the conceptual typologies that Euro-Americans have used to devalue Native and Indigenous dancing, including the assumption that religion and dance are separable dimensions of human life.

Article

Religion, New Media, and Digital Culture  

Giulia Evolvi

The study of religion and new media explores how the contemporary proliferation of technological devices and digital culture impacts religious traditions. The progressive mediation of religion through websites, social networks, apps, and digital devices has created new conditions for religious experiences, practices, and beliefs. From the diffusion of internet technologies in the mid-1990s, scholars have individuated four waves to describe the evolution of religion and new media: (a) The first wave (mid-1990s–beginning 2000s) is characterized by enthusiasm for the potential of the Internet and the establishment of the first websites dedicated to religion, such as the Vatican official webpage and chatrooms where Neo-Pagans celebrated online rituals. These may be considered examples of “cyber-religion,” a term that indicates religious activities in the virtual space of the Internet, usually called in this period “cyberspace.” (b) The second wave (the mid-late 2000s) involves the growth of religious online presences, and is characterized by more realistic attitudes on the potentials and consequences of internet use. For example, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish virtual sacred buildings have been created on the platform Second Life. At the same time, the virtual congregation Church of Fools attracted both positive reactions and criticism. In this period, scholars often talk about “religion online,” which is the online transposition of activities and narratives of religious groups, and “online religion,” a type of religion that exists mainly because of the increased interconnectivity and visual enhancements of the Internet. (c) The third wave (late 2000–mid-2010s) saw the creation of social network platforms and the proliferation of smartphones. Religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and the Pope established social network accounts, and smartphone developed apps for reading sacred texts, praying, and performing confessions. This type of religion is usually called “digital religion,” a concept that indicates the progressive blurring of the line between online and offline religiosity. (d) The fourth wave (the late 2010s) includes online religious groups circulating narratives beyond religious institutions, and greater academic attention to elements such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, politics. This is the case of veiled Muslim influencers who talk about religion in fashion tutorials, and Russian Orthodox women (Matushki) who use blogs to diffuse patriarchal values. The notion of “digital religion” is employed in this period to explore how religious identities, communities, and authorities change in the internet age. Scholars have approached these four waves through the lens of existing media theoretical frameworks, especially mediation, mediatization, and social shaping of technology, and adapted them to the field of religion and new media. While existing scholarship has often focused on Europe and North America, the study of religion and new media is expected to become increasingly global in scope.