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Buddhism in Colonial Contexts  

Douglas Ober

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

Buddhist Geography and Regionalism  

Megan Bryson

Since its birth in India about 2,500 years ago, Buddhism has spread throughout the globe. As Buddhism reached new areas, its followers developed their own regional identities and understandings of Buddhist geography. South Asia, and specifically the sites associated with the historical Buddha’s life, remained a conceptual center for many Buddhists, but the near disappearance of Buddhism from the subcontinent in the 13th century allowed Buddhists in other regions to overcome their “borderland complexes” and identify sacred Buddhist sites in their own lands. This involved both the metaphorical transfer of sacred sites from South Asia to new places and the creation of new sacred sites, such as reliquaries for the remains of local saints and mountains seen as the abodes of buddhas or bodhisattvas. By the 19th and 20th centuries, colonial encounters introduced Buddhism to the West and created categories of national Buddhisms, which led to new visions of Buddhist geography and regionalism. In addition to national Buddhisms, regional distinctions commonly applied to the Buddhist world include the mapping of Theravāda in Southeast Asia, Mahāyāna in East Asia, and Vajrayāna in the Himalayas, or the mapping of Northern Buddhism as Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna in East Asia and the Himalayas, and Southern Buddhism as Theravāda in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. These models have some salience, but the history of Buddhist geography and regionalism reveals that the locations and interactions of different Buddhist traditions are more complex. New models for Buddhist regionalism have moved away from static, bounded spaces to foreground processes of interaction, such as network analyses of trade and transmission routes or areas such as “Maritime Asia” or the “East Asian Mediterranean.”

Article

Sufism in the Modern World  

Marcia Hermansen

Sufism, the mystical expression of the Islamic tradition, has been for centuries a major cultural, social, political, and, of course, religious influence in diverse Muslim cultures. With modernity Sufism has been subjected to increased criticism, and in some cases repression and violent hostility, on the part of certain Muslim opponents. From another direction, secularizing reformers such as President Kemal Atatürk (d. 1937) of Turkey view Sufism as a repository of decadent behaviors and superstitions that are incompatible with modern values and rationality. It is also noteworthy that, in response to internal and external reactions to violent extremism especially post-9/11, political leaders in Muslim majority countries such as Morocco and Pakistan have attempted to promote Sufism as a potentially moderating and peaceful influence and therefore encouraged it in their societies. This approach has also been promoted by Western political interests that present Sufism as a moderating counter to violent extremism. These latter examples highlight the importance of the modern nation-state as it engages with Sufism and its institutions, especially in the postcolonial period. Pre-modern forms of Sufism emphasized pledging allegiance (bay‘a) to a spiritual master and affiliating with a Sufi order (Arabic: ṭarīqa, pl. ṭuruq). Being part of a Sufi order was thus a communal, as well as a personal, commitment, and the hierarchy and sense of belonging they entailed led the orders to play an important social, and in some cases, political role. With modernity, esoteric elements of Sufi thought, as well as traditional folk practices of making vows and faith healing, along with earlier social forms of clientage and patronage, have become less relevant in increasingly urban environments. Some scholars of Sufism have therefore characterized the modern era as a time of decline and degeneration in Sufi social and political influence, as well as in Sufi intellectual production and literary and artistic creativity. However, expectations that Sufism is on the wane are challenged by observations of how Sufis have adapted to changing circumstances in modernity, both in Muslim-majority societies and in the West. For example, some scholars document a Sufi renewal involving the rise of charismatic teachers and practices and the reach of new global networks. Sufi teachings are promoted through Internet sites and social media, while today’s Sufi teachers may draw on 20th century Western psychological frameworks to explain the spiritual and therapeutic impact of Sufi practices on individuals. Meanwhile Sufi ideas are disseminated to broader publics through music videos, conferences, and other cultural events, such that Sufism in these new configurations continues to inspire significant, if more diffuse, loyalties, both locally and globally. In an age of networking and social mobility, flows of individuals and ideas have created new transnational spheres for the influence and impact of Sufism. At the same time local conditions vary considerably in shaping its diverse contemporary expressions and adaptations.

Article

Jewish Art in the Modern Era  

Larry Silver and Samantha Baskind

Before the 19th century, most artistic productions by Jewish makers were aligned with religious observance (“Judaica”) or consisted of printing Jewish texts after the development of the printing press and publishing houses. Over the course of the 19th century, coinciding with increasing Jewish political and intellectual emancipation, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists began to make contributions to visual culture, sometimes with markedly Jewish content, such as biblical subjects or imagery of Jewish life, but also with original contributions to favored artistic movements, such as Impressionism or 20th-century abstract art. Zionism generated a range of energetic contributions to an emerging culture, and Holocaust traumas produced powerful artistic responses. At the turn of the 20th century, leading centers of Jewish art centered on America and Israel but included the wider Diaspora.

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New Spiritualities in Western Society  

Adam Possamai

Various social and cultural changes from modernity to late modernity have been key to the appearance and development of new spiritualities in Western society. The often-contested term of “new spiritualities” is often liked with other no less contested ones such as “mysticism,” “popular religion,” “the New Age,” and “new religious” movements. Further, if the expression new spiritualities or alternative spiritualities took off outside of institutionalized religions in the Western world, this term is now re-used by these institutions within their specific theology. As new spiritualities are becoming mainstream in the first quarter of the 21st century, they are having a low-key impact on post-secularism (i.e., a specific type of secularism characteristic of late modern societies).

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Seyyed Hossein Nasr  

Muhammad U. Faruque

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a contemporary Islamic philosopher with global influence. His oeuvre covers an extended field from the perennial philosophy, which dominates his philosophical worldview, to religion, science, environmental studies, education, and the arts with particular attention to Islamic and comparative studies, as well as criticism of modernism. Grounded in Islamic tradition, Nasr’s far-reaching ideas have been acknowledged by the global scholarly community. Nasr is the only Muslim thinker included in the Library of Living Philosophers (LLP). Since its inception in 1939, the LLP has featured some of the greatest of the 20th century’s Western philosophers and scientists, namely A. N. Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, J. P. Sartre, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Richard Rorty, and Hilary Putnam. Nasr was also the first Muslim and non-Westerner to deliverthe prestigious Gifford lectures whose contributors also include prominent intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt, Noam Chomsky, William James, Iris Murdoch, Charles Taylor, and Rowan Williams. Nasr’s written corpus contains some thirty thousand pages in print, which have generated a great deal of interest, contention, and controversy in the Islamic world and beyond. One should also consider his innumerable media appearances, public lectures, and interviews that often complement and expand upon his written corpus. Nasr is perhaps most famous for being one of the first people to predict, diagnose, and provide a response to the ecological crisis, having spoken out on the topic as early as 1966. He is considered the father of “Islamic environmentalism,” which is now gaining momentum in the Muslim world. Nasr also made important contributions to topics such as Islamic science and philosophy, religious pluralism, Islamic art and spirituality, and Sufi-Chinese dialogue.

Article

Visual Arts: Modern Art  

Jonathan A. Anderson

The dominant histories of 19th- and 20th-century art in the West have tended to depict modernism as making deep and decisive breaks from religious thought, practices, and institutions. There are good reasons for scholars seeing the history this way. On the one hand, the development of modern art coincided with major sociocultural shifts that deeply reshaped not only religion (as established religious traditions became increasingly contested and pluralized) but also the functions of art itself, which thrived in forms and spaces that seemed significantly detached from religious subjects, patronage, and purposes. On the other hand, there were also significant theoretical factors shaping the ways that religion was presented—or often conspicuously not presented—in the writing of modern art history. An especially strong secularization theory (a sociological thesis positing that a society’s modernization necessarily entails its secularization) has tended to dominate the scholarship of modernism, coupled with a heavy reliance on critical models that privilege highly suspicious hermeneutics (in the lineages of Marxian, Nietzschean, and Freudian critical theory), which tend to dismantle whatever “religious” content persists in modern art into questions of social power, ressentiment, sublimated desire, and so on. In all these ways, religious traditions became largely invisible and unreadable in the history of modernism, even in cases where they were important factors. Since the 1990s, however, several of the key historical and theoretical underpinnings of this depiction of modernism have been increasingly called into question, and a more complicated, ambiguous picture is emerging—one in which modern art and religion remain deeply entangled in fascinating and confusing ways. There are various ways of identifying and understanding these entanglements, which require not only careful reexamination of the particularities of the histories involved but also reconsideration of the interpretive assumptions and priorities through which those histories are construed. There are at least five focal points where the nexuses of art and religion are being reexamined and brought more clearly into view in the histories of modernism—namely, through object-oriented, practice-oriented, artist-oriented, context-oriented, and/or concept-oriented studies of particular instances in those histories. These focal points provide concrete loci for perceiving and exploring the functions, formations, and effects of “religion in modern art”—an inquiry which also can be reversed to explore examples of “modern art in religion,” including instances where major artworks are situated in churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and other religious contexts. There are, however, varying ways that scholars interpret what they find at these focal points and how they discern the larger implications of these particular entanglements of art and religion in the history of modern and contemporary art. These differences are clarified by recognizing at least four interpretive horizons—anthropological, political, spiritual, and theological—within which scholars are understanding these focal points and rereading these histories. Though often diverging in the accounts they produce, these four horizons (and the potential interplay between them) are vital for a continued rethinking of the relations between modern art and religion.

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

Religion, Modernity, and Assimilation in America  

Samira K. Mehta

Given that modernity, in its current configuration, owes much of its formulation to Protestant models of individualism and governance; and given that in the United States, religious minorities find themselves assimilating to Protestant religious norms and to a secular state that is similarly shaped by Protestant world views, it is often difficult to distinguish between “assimilating to the United States” and “wrestling with modernity.” Often, religious groups are doing both, but which they perceive themselves to be doing shapes their perceptions of the experience. Religious assimilation is closely tied to whiteness and therefore was more available to European immigrants who were Catholic or Jewish than to Native Americans, African Americans, or Asian Americans, regardless of religion. That said, an examination of the concept of assimilation demonstrates that definitions or ideals of assimilation have varied throughout U.S. religious history.

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Martin Luther and Modernity, Capitalism, and Liberalism  

Johannes Zachhuber

The concept of modernity has emerged as a major philosophical, theological, and sociological category of interpretation in the aftermath of the French Revolution. It was meant to embrace fundamental changes to the fabric of Western culture, including the rise of capitalism, liberalism, democracy, and secularity. From its inception, references to Luther and the Reformation have been a frequent element of this kind of theory. The first major theorist of modernity in this sense was arguably Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, who set the tone of subsequent contributions by aligning modernity with subjectivity. For him, the religious dimension of this development was crucial, and he was explicit in his claim that it was the Reformation that brought the turn to subjectivity in the realm of religion. A side effect of the turn to subjectivity was the alienation of the subject from the world. Modernity is thus deeply ambivalent, and so is Protestantism. Later thinkers developed these insights further, but also criticized the identification of Luther with the origin of modernity, pointing to continuities between his theology and earlier, medieval thought.