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date: 29 June 2022

Buddhism and Globalizationfree

Buddhism and Globalizationfree

  • Jørn BorupJørn BorupAssociate Professor and Head of Department, Department of the Study of Religion, Aarhus University


“Global Buddhism” can be broadly understood as the transnational and transcultural network of circulating Buddhists and dynamic flows of Buddhist ideas and practices. It is characterized by ideals of universally applicable values and individually accessible experiences transgressing historical and cultural particularities. Global Buddhism is one kind of globalized religion, being itself a specific domain within the general context of globalization. Globalization encompasses transnational processes of interchanging values, services, and products, typically related to the modern, capitalist world. However, globalization has also been understood as a framework constituting cultural and religious dynamics and centripetal forces involving circulating ideas, practices, and institutions in an open and interacting world. A broader spatial and temporal perspective on globalization situates it in broader historical contexts, but typically linking it to an affinity with postmodernity and with a historical focus on the time since the breakdown of the communist world. Proto-global elements of religion can likewise be found throughout history, especially in axial religions and in contexts of accelerated circulation and hybridization. Throughout Buddhist history, such elements have been characteristic of the religion’s evolution and dissemination. Mission and trade along the Silk Route and in southeast Asia created proto-global ramifications just like the advent of Western colonialism co-created reform movements and networks of people with international scope and impact on “Buddhist modernity.” Global aspects are thus inherently part of much of Buddhist history, but a more restricted use of the concept would place global Buddhism in the aftermath of modernity, typically pronounced in urban centres and de-territorialized (online) social networks. Resistance and relativization are potentially always part of global transfigurations has also been influential in Buddhist contexts. One specific kind of “glocal” Buddhism, (yet) mainly restricted to a North American context, concentrates on reactions towards the transfigurations of globalization. What constitutes this kind of “post-global Buddhism” is twofold: an unveiling of universalized, global Buddhism as basically particularized “white” Buddhism, and an ideological shift beyond such disguised hegemony envisioning itself with new practices, values, identities, and communities based on (gender and) ethnic/racial differentiation.


  • Buddhism


Buddhism is everywhere. From Tokyo and Bangkok to San Francisco, Paris, and Johannesburg. In monasteries and meditation centres, in bookshops, Buddha Bars and IKEA, in the language and minds of unprecedented numbers of cultures and people. Monks and lamas fly everywhere; some seem always mobile and moving. Meditators shop for retreats around the world, maybe inspired by universal algorithms appealing to digitized involvement, and migrants keep track of transnational relations while recreating their own religious identities abroad. In 2001, Martin Baumann wrote that “Buddhist groups and centres have flourished and multiplied to an extent never before observed during Buddhism’s 150 years of dissemination outside of Asia.”1 In recent years, this process has accelerated even further, with “new, indigenized variations of Buddhist forms, practices, and interpretations,” and with impact also beyond Buddhism. Buddhists only make up 7 percent of the world population, and Buddhism may even be the only religion not growing in the future, mainly because there are too few young Buddhists to regenerate this “old religion.”2 Religious demography is extremely complex, and notoriously challenging to apply to Asian traditions and Buddhism with their hybrid and creolized traditions, fuzzy “culture religiosity,” and more or less religious folk traditions, and it is difficult with statistics to capture the many Western meditators, or sympathizers, performing Buddhism as a cultural narrative. Buddhism may not have been as successful in missionizing and regenerating itself by clear-cut religiosity as Christianity and Islam. However, Buddhism is a missionizing religion. It is a traveling religion, translatable, transportable, and transposable. With its Indian origin and historical dissemination across the globe, this world’s oldest religion has truly become global.


Leaving aside its different trajectories, globalization is generally understood as the transnational and transcultural processes of interchanging ideas, practices, values, and products. Originally used to characterize capitalist societies, the concept encapsulates the worldwide circulation and hybridization of money, goods, and people across borders. The world has thus accordingly been deterritorialized and translocalized, and in a sense diminished into one place, not least with the help of new communication technologies, the internet, air travel, and market interests. Until the crises emerging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, international trade and tourism had only seen a slight pause during the previous financial crisis in 2008. Globalization is “the compression of the world,” with world citizens having a global consciousness, culturally characterized by continuously elaborating forms of diversity across economic, political, and cultural domains and with new migration patterns of increasing numbers of people.3 It is almost a Buddhist trope characterizing globalization as “an ever-densening network of interconnections and interdependence.”4

It could of course be argued that such transnational movements and interconnections have been present throughout history. Before the breakdown of the communist bloc (and the isolationist China) with its apparent acknowledgement of worldwide capitalism, the neoliberal turns could be seen in previous decades. The modernity of the 18th and 19th centuries and the previous Western imperialism were seminal periods expanding the world, as was what Robertson calls the “take-off period of modern globalization, lasting from about 1870 through to the mid-1920s.”5 The emerging modern world as a capitalist system giving priority to endless accumulation was closely linked to the 16th century.6 Viking colonization and trade are archeological signs of globalization, and even the Axial age can be seen as an early representation of proto-global waves.7 While naturally being related to a long-term perspective, there is, however, a difference of degree concerning both spatiality and temporality. The speed, intensity, and distribution of the elements of globalization are characteristic for, and consequences of, modernity, mainly having explanatory value within the latest decades.8

That the concept also carries ideological and political narratives is obvious. Whenever the “supporters” find global evidence of development in trade, wealth, or even common values, the “sceptics” point to uneven development, capitalism’s exploitation and historical reminders that all “global elements” were present and more democratically divided before the neoliberal world order.9 Also a geopolitical bias behind the usage of the term has been criticized. Globalization is often understood as the global implementation of (Western-derived) models of economic and societal systems towards a new world order and a concept celebrating the triumphalism of the West.10 The responses to such (Western) universalism are thus often inherently part of the globalization process. Roland Robertson termed the localization and relativization of, and resistance to, cultural homogenization “glocalization.”11 As such, the local economy, production, demography, culture, and religion have always had to negotiate, revise, and relativize the demands and narratives of globalization. Postmodern metaphors of hybrids, flows, and interactions with less dichotomic divisions between “them” and “us” are also part of the process. One could claim that “we have never been global,” or that globalization has always been everywhere. However, setting aside the obvious ideological interests in the various emic discourses, globalization, as well as pre-global and post-global tendencies (both categories are explored in the sections “Pre-Global Buddhism” and “Post-Global Buddhism”), is undoubtedly a useful analytical concept, both to explore dynamic changes in religion and as a vehicle to transcend traditional Western bias in the study of religion.12 Also, the study of religion and Buddhism requires a “new agenda for the human sciences in the light of processes of human circulation and the redefinition of the perimeters of societies that are occurring across the entire planet.”13

Religion and Globalization

“Globalized religion” is one domain in which the double-sided expansion and contraction of the world frame the ideas and practices of religions, typically represented by increased and circulating diversity, migration, and hybridity.14 Religion can be seen both to have been affected by, and also itself constituted, globalization in its cross-cultural interrelations with global networks, transnational human and cultural flows, fluidity, and hybridity. In a way, religions have always “moved, shifted, and interacted with one another around the globe,” and as such, “religion has always been global,” since it is “related to the global transportation of peoples, and of ideas.”15 Both migration, diasporas, transnationalism, and transculturalism have been part of the dynamics of circulating and traveling religion. Naturally, some contexts and religious transfigurations have historically been more global(ish) than others. Post-axial world religions like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism have been more prone to universalize their scope and raison d’être by traveling and by deculturizing and deparochializing (at least some aspects of) their teachings, practices, and communal belonging. Hellenistic religions were more oriented beyond their local ramifications, and Eastern religions have throughout most of history been marked by diversity. Theosophy, perennialism, new age, and spirituality are based on translocal traditions, although somewhat influenced by a “Western” gaze.16 Individual characteristics of global religion are thus not new, but the dimensions and speed of globalization is. Global(ized) religion is potentially everywhere, accessible for everybody, and although often misrecognized as such by its users, also embedded in global economy and commerce. Reality obviously shows that accessibility to the goods of the global world is unevenly distributed, and that global religion has also needed its local revisions and relativizations. Just like the migration, colonialization, and mission of previous periods needed local adaptations, so have the challenges of global religion been indigenized and “glocalized.” A process of glocalization can thus be seen as “the ability of religion to mold into the fabric of different communities in ways that connect it intimately with communal and local relations.”17 Syncretism, accommodation, segregation, fundamentalization, and negotiation have been some of the strategies for both the hosts and the guests. Identity essentialism is one particular formation of a deglobalizing strategy, relativizing the mistakes and constraints of globalization. While it can be seen as an inherent possibility of glocalization, the argument for assessing its terminological relevance is its strategic reaction to and undressing of globalization as essentially aparticularized, Western discourse.

Having “a lack of urgency about religious growth” may be a “Buddhist drawback,” since endless time for karma to ripen does not encourage proselytization.18 Buddhism, however, entails several of the characteristics of a prototypical global religion, with webs of “elective affinity” also going back in history as well as to a contemporary Western post-global resistance.

Pre-Global Buddhism

Buddhism was a typical axial religion, in principle universalizing beyond ethnic, cultural, national, and gender boundaries. A purely doctrinal focus on the classical texts may suggest a reading of early Buddhism as being a movement based on social criticism. While there were naturally also social implications of the teachings, the ideas and practices of the early ascetic movement seemed to relate primarily to (socially embedded) existential analyses of a cosmological nature with potential universal relevance: everyone suffers; everyone can follow the road to enlightenment (or better karma). The Sangha accumulated wealth, disseminated its teachings, practices, and cultural imprints through mission and trade, being an institution that had just as much civilizational impact on the Asian sphere as the Christian church had in Europe.19 Alexander the Great met Buddhism in the 4th century bc, planting the seeds for later encounters between Buddhism and Western cultures. Emperor Ashoka was instrumental in missionizing Buddhism, having his son Mahinda spread the religion to Ceylon. What Frasch calls “the great translocation” between 800 and 1300, where Buddhism disappeared from India while simultaneously transforming South Asia to a Buddhist region, was a period expanding the already established networks along the Silk Route with its proto-global ramifications.20 Sectarianism and cultural adaptations were part of the double-sided localization and universalization developments, with Theravada/Hinayana mainly constituting itself as the majority religion, and Mahayana in North and East Asia developing more creolized and syncretic forms of religion.21

It was not, however, until the 19th century that Buddhism became truly international. This was not least because of the period of Western colonialization, which brought both political and cultural suppression, but also Buddhist reforms and, eventually, what in general terms can be called “modern Buddhism.”22 The new international encounters thus prompted re-evaluation and re-invention of certain sectors of Buddhism. “Protestant Buddhism” was a neo-Buddhist reform movement reacting against (internal religious challenges and) the constraints of the British colonial powers. At the same time, it was also highly inspired by Western culture and religion, both the Protestant Christian emphasis on texts and lay religiosity (hence the term “Protestant Buddhism”) and some parallel underpinnings of Theosophical and Perennialist ideas influencing universalizing tendencies in the Buddhist world.23 Buddhism was invented as a concept in meeting Western colonialism, religion, and scholarship, and it was soon designated as a world religion. The Western trope of Buddhism being a universally applicable way of life combining deep spirituality and scientific thinking has its origin in this period. Buddhism in Ceylon and Japan changed dramatically due to the meeting with the West, as did Buddhism in China, Thailand, Tibet, and other Asian Buddhist countries. Some of these developments had clear nationalist agendas with Buddhism as a legitimate agent in a reverse Orientalist and evolutionary scheme, while others reframed their traditions in a universalist paradigm.24 Given that this period of Buddhist history was also dominated by a capitalist mode of production, a world system of core and peripheral countries, powerful technological advances, and global networks, Cristina Rocha even characterizes it as “thick globalization.”25 It could be argued, however, that it is more relevant to restrict “global” to a later period and characterize—as has also generally been the norm—this period of Buddhist history, with its international relations across East and West, more comprehensively as “modern Buddhism.”

Global Buddhism

Martin Baumann, in his influential article on global Buddhism, suggests four distinct developmental stages in Buddhist history: the canonical, the traditional, the modern, and the global.26 Continuing the general modernization processes of Buddhism, he finds “global” rather than “modern” or “post-modern” to be more inclusive as a spatially more precise concept to represent “the vigorous global dissemination of Buddhist people and institutions that occurred in the late twentieth century.”27 In his analysis of American Buddhism, Scott Mitchell understands modernity as “the subject, a collection of rhetorical or hermeneutic strategies.”28 For him, Buddhist modernism thus refers to a set of discourses emerging at the intersection of Western and Asian responses to the modern era. He sees globalization as “the system or means by which these discourses spread across cultures via networks of trade, travel, and telecommunications.”29 Thus, “modernity and colonialism laid the foundation on which our current age of globalization rests,” and Buddhism in the United States can be seen as “the result of modernist discourses made possible through the apparatus of globalization.”30

Global Buddhism can be understood as a specific kind of global religion with its transcultural flows, deterritorialized universality, and centripetal “global religioscape.” It is characterized by “transnational and transcontinental flow of Buddhist ideas and practices and the global travel of Buddhist teachers and students.”31 Just like modern Buddhism, the focus on laicization and democratization continues in the global period, whether this means access to meditation techniques, texts, or institutional offices. The process of deculturalization is even more pronounced, since the transnational and transcultural interrelations in principle overrule the logics of localism. In Western contexts, this often means that the traditional Asian Buddhist cosmologies with Gods, heavens, hells, and even ideas about reincarnation are demythologized to neglect what are considered “cultural elements.” Universally applicable individual experiences beyond the boundaries of history and culture, however, are typical of globalized discourses and practices. This also fits with “patterns of self-cultivation, administrative structures, dispositions and worldviews that intersect across geographical boundaries, lineage and ethnicity.”32 Such global dynamics have been activated by the centripetal forces where ideas, practices, and institutions have been circulating in an open and interacting world, overcoming isolationist particularism.

Relevant and translatable ideas and practices are necessary for a religion to travel across cultures, countries, and eras. Meditation and karma, interrelated transfigurations of momentary existence, enlightenment, and conscious awareness have been some of the transferable Buddhist elements and “selling points” in contemporary therapy and philosophy of life. Individualization has become global, and so has the global reconfiguration of classical Buddhist values fitting a liberal market in an open exchange society with generously “open hermeneutics” and an accessible universal grammar. But individual actors and networks of important people have also been the building blocks of modern Buddhism, paving the way for global accessibility. Anagarika Dharmapala, D. T. Suzuki, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Dalai Lama were “trailblazers” as principal nodes in the networks of actors paving the way for the spread of Buddhism.33 Likewise, Tibetan lamas, Zen roshis, and spiritual leaders for new Buddhist groups have been paramount carriers and reformulators of Buddhism. Networks of Buddhist thinkers and missionaries, Western scholars, and spiritually inclined practitioners, such as Theosophists, have been engaged in co-creating modern and global forms of Buddhism.

Internationalization was also the context and aim of the many ecumenic initiatives and organizations. Already the Mahabodhi Society in the late 19th century was instrumental in gathering Buddhists across sectarian divisions, and organizations such as the World Fellowships of Buddhists and, more recently, World Buddhist Forum have continued such endeavours, the proliferation of which is a “significant manifestation of global and transnational forms of Buddhism.”34 Apart from international organizations, regional groups have also flourished, just like individual Buddhist groups have become global, some with higher aspirations for internationalization than others. Soka Gakkai International, Foguang Shan, Tzu Chi Foundation, Dhammakaya, and the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) are some of the most successful groups, sometimes characterized as new religious movements, as opposed to the traditional groups often having more local and national interests. Some transnational groups focus on specific topics (such as education, climate, or meditation), and some initiatives are annually returning activities sponsored by the United Nations.35

Inter-religious initiatives and transreligious encounters are other examples of initiatives characteristic of modern religion having become globally accessible, sometimes via the international Buddhist organizations. Already the famous Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893 was an event with lasting effect, especially for the Buddhist world. Popular culture and mediatized influence in the contemporary world have brought other manifestations of transreligious dialogue, sometimes turning into new, creolized traditions. The largest number of convert Buddhists in America are Jews, hence the acronym JUBU’s for the “Jewish Buddhists” who, like the many Christians practicing meditation (or “Christfulness”), or the many young Western Buddhists, being highly eclectic, inclusivist, hybrid, fluid, heterogenous, and flexible, often mix practices and beliefs across (Buddhist and other) religious traditions. When even Dalai Lama says, “don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a better Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are,” the symbolic capital of Buddhism as a symbol of world spirituality beyond religious boundaries could not be more pronounced.36

Buddhism’s positive image was developed over a long historical process going back to the mid-19th century. The global dissemination has since then been made possible not least due to the media revolution supplementing canons and ritual texts with readily accessible images, videos, blogs, homepages, and multidimensional channels of digital communication. Buddhism has spread to the movies; it has been mediatized and popularized. sells popular books on Buddhism for all segments; Buddhist images with their global semiotics are for sale at varieties of shops, and commercials use Buddhism for its recognizable narratives of purity, progress, and happiness. Perhaps the most successful global manifestation of a Buddhist practice having gone “beyond Buddhism” is mindfulness. Meditation has been a key symbol of authentic Buddhism in most of its history, also in the West.37 But the spiritualization, therapeutization, and secularization of Buddhist meditation in the form of contemporary mindfulness has reached unprecedented global relevance.

Glocal Buddhism

The question remains: is Buddhism really global? Has the general globalization process truly been embedded and embodied in the lives of living Buddhists around the globe? Has the global homogenization imperative actually reinvigorated the dynamic strings of centripetal forces behind the diversities of Buddhism? Is “global Buddhism” mainly yet another Western narrative, legitimizing a neoliberal market based on Euro-American schemes of also cultural and religious patterns?

First of all, the unilinear narrative of “the West” finding, adapting, transforming, and renewing the “Eastern Buddhism” needs supplementary corrections. Buddhism was never a passive thing to be discovered, and Buddhists were never passive objects or carriers of a religion that was mainly formed by Western intruders. It is important to underline that “Buddhist modernism was created as much in Asia as in the West.”38 Cultures and religions were severely affected by encountering Western modernity, but they were already undergoing changes before and during these encounters. Contemporary Buddhism and spirituality are as much the result of hybrid circulations and negotiated innovations as they are products of the one-way globalization process that is often narrated in and by Western frameworks. “‘Global’ does not equal ‘West,’ for globalization processes of cultural and economic flows have markedly affected all nation-states, be they Asian, African, European, or elsewhere.”39

However, it may be argued that some forms of Buddhism have never been global. In many places in Asia, Buddhism is very much local and does not carry the same global symbolic capital as in the West. In South Korea, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, and Japan, for instance, any talk of “cool Buddhism” as a signifier of a global brand value may sound rather off the mark for many Buddhists who have been used to seeing Christianity as inherently modern and global—or the newly invented Westernized form of Buddhism as being truly cool.40

Global Buddhism is also a phenomenon that is not restricted to Western default values. Buddhism has circulated, been Westernized and vernacularized, exoticized, and domesticized back to Asia in its “global forms,” just like it has reached well beyond the traditional hemispheres of “East” and “West,” namely Africa, Australia, and South America.41 Some of these reformed, rearticulated manifestations have celebrated “westernized” global Buddhism, while others have been critical of it. All, however, have actively responded to, and accommodated locally, the globalized religion. Global Buddhism has also been relativized and indigenized as glocal Buddhism.

One particular example of this is in the broad category of “Western Buddhism” and the concept of the “two Buddhisms.” This often contested concept has been used to describe the diverse forms of Buddhist practice as seen in the immigrant (or heritage) and convert communities in mainly North America and Europe. It has often been claimed that the immigrant and heritage Buddhists, with their Asian origin as refugees, migrants, or descendants, live and practice a form of Buddhism integrating and preserving elements typical of the lived religion in Asia. The “converts,” being those with a Euro-American ethnic origin, mainly use parts of Buddhism compatible with “Western” tropes, typically focusing on meditation and self-development. While the division of the two kinds of Buddhism still seems to have relevance as an explanatory model in many European countries, it has often been criticized in the United States and by American Buddhists.42 Both the immigrant/heritage Buddhism, the convert Buddhism, and the Buddhist critique of the model are examples of glocalized Buddhist acculturation and reinterpretation, being expressions of globalization’s paradoxical combination of “universalization of the particular” and “particularization of the universal.”43

Post-Global Buddhism

Resistance to Western dominance and hegemonically ascribed rights to define and categorize true religion is nothing new. The 19th-century discovery and invention of other religions was not only a cultural and scholarly landmark, but also a project with a heavy political and ideological agenda. The understandable reactions of Asians (and Buddhists) against Western hegemony and Orientalism have seen a variety of manifestations, some being of a scholarly nature, others being embedded in neo-essentialized culturalism and nationalism. Buddhism has been used as a discourse legitimizing nationalism or even war in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Japan, and the anti-Western campaigns usually related to Islamic groups occasionally also pop up in Buddhist discourses, challenging also the combined Westernization–globalization correlation. Fractions of reaction and resistance are thus potentially part of all interactional processes, including globalization. Globalization itself is a discourse of power, potentially covering cultural chauvinism.44 However, apart from the relativization and indigenization of global processes, there seems to be a discourse specifically reacting to, and with visions of going beyond, globalization. What could be termed “post-global religion” is characterized by the strategic disruption of existing order, and the articulation of a re-enchanted particularity paradigm favoring the forces of centrifugal dispersion. Post-global sentiments can be seen in the reappearance of religious essentialism, whether based on nation, ethnicity, culture, race, tribe, or territory. It typically favors differentiation and adheres to transgressing or resisting the universalizing, centripetal forces of globalization. This has increasingly been articulated in North American culture wars, where religionization of political, cultural, ethnic, or gender-related identity politics has been turned into sacred authenticity claims.

Such post-global reactions seem also to be present in some (mainly North American) Buddhist discourses. Post-global Buddhism interestingly contextualizes the idea and concept of global Buddhism, yet suggests contours of overcoming and transgressing it to point in a new direction.45 What constitutes this is twofold: an unveiling of universalized, global Buddhism as basically particularized “white” Buddhism, and an ideological shift beyond such disguised hegemony with recipes for a new diversified Buddhism.

Ann Gleig finds that Martin Baumann’s use of “global Buddhism” “is insufficient to capture current developments in North American convert lineages,” including the “critical turn” that she has identified in her thorough investigation of American Buddhism.46 Here, she finds characteristics of what could be called postmodern, critical scepticism towards modern scientific rationalism, universal truth, and human progress.47 She also links such criticism to discourses of colonialism, suggesting that postcolonial Buddhism designates a new phase of American Buddhism favoring diversity and postsecularity beyond modernity (which is the subtitle of her book American Dharma).48 What ties together several of these critical stances is a focus on race. What has been the default understanding of contemporary Western Buddhism in its allegedly authentic and global applicability is actually, the critique goes, a very particular kind of Buddhism, namely a middle- and upper-class, white Buddhism.49 White lamas and roshis teaching Buddhism do not represent “objective, authentic Buddhism,” but are entangled in particularized codes as much as any other “cultural version” of Buddhism. Mindfulness is an illustrative example of such “whitewashing,” since “the vast majority of information about mindfulness is disseminated by white people, in media venues controlled by white people, for the primary consumption of white people.”50 Mindfulness has, such as yoga, tantra, and other treasures from the Asian spiritual traditions, been culturally appropriated by white, privileged culture and commercialized by industries playing by the rules of globalization, thus sometimes being derogatively termed “McMindfulness.” What Ann Gleig characterizes as American trends after Buddhist modernism—postmodern, post-colonial, and post-secular Buddhism—and what I suggest to be designated as “post-global Buddhism” is a “shift in focus from the individual to the collective, the internal to the external.”51 It reflects an emphasis “on an embodied and engaged rather than a transcendent approach to Buddhist practice,” and an LGBTQI sangha’s “embrace of diversity and intersectionality” reflecting “the wider cultural shift from the modern to postmodern, in which modern liberal goals of assimilation were displaced in favor of a postmodern and postcolonial affirmation of difference”52 in which “racial diversity and inclusion work replaces a modernist narrative of universalism with a postmodern one of cultural particularity.”53

The ideals of global Buddhism honouring universal truths, hermeneutical openness, and circular interaction transgressing ethnicity, gender, and nation have thus been exposed as culturally embedded in particularism and dressed in hegemonic garments. Post-global Buddhism is critical of the grand narratives of (Western) modernity with its rationalism, universalism, and ideals of progress and the centripetal forces of globalization. It envisions itself with new practices, values, identities, and communities based on (gender and) ethnic/racial differentiation. Whether it will spread in space and time or remain limited to a local North American trend is yet to be seen. The re-culturalized differentiation of a new (and thus equally particularized) kind of post-global Buddhism is, however, an interesting development to be continuously investigated by both scholars of Buddhism and religion.

Discussion of the Literature

Global Buddhism has been a concept integrated in much contemporary literature, though not necessarily explained or reflected upon. It has been institutionalized by, especially, the e-journal Journal of Global Buddhism and also Journal of Contemporary Buddhism, where individual articles cover a broad range of topics related to contemporary and global manifestations of Buddhism. Martin Baumann’s article on the developmental stages of Buddhism from 2001 discusses and analyses the concept of “global Buddhism” and has been influential for much scholarship on the topic.54 The concept of globalization relates to, and sometimes overlaps with, modernity and post-modernity. A work having acquired almost canonical status on Buddhism and modernity is David L. McMahan’s The Making of Buddhist Modernism, which focuses mainly on historical contexts, while his edited volume on the same topic is a collection of articles with empirically broader perspectives, including an article by Cristina Rocha on globalization.55 Buddhism in the West has often been identified with the vital ingredients of global Buddhism. Previously having been a minor (and even considered inferior) field, since the beginning of the 20th century it has developed into an independent scholarly field with contributions from scholars of religion, scholars of Buddhism, sociologists, and anthropologists. A major contribution was an anthology on the “Westward dharma,” with examples of the dissemination of Buddhism outside Asia.56 The transfigurations of Buddhism in America have equally been a focus area of research, not least in analyses and discussions of the (contested) concept and model of the “two Buddhisms.”57 In her analyses of the new trends of Buddhism in North America, Ann Gleig finds general critique of what was previously understood as American or even global Buddhism, pointing in new directions with more race, ethnicity, and gender-conscious Buddhist identities—a process termed “post-global Buddhism” by Jørn Borup.58 Consciousness about not restricting global Buddhism to the West in recent years has made contributions about non-Western Buddhism part of the research on contemporary Buddhism. Local forms of Buddhism around Asian countries have been a traditional field of research for anthropologists, Buddhologists, and scholars of religion, especially the latter including comparative aspects. Michael Jerryson’s edited Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism is a fine example of a modern handbook covering aspects of Buddhism as a lived religion around the world.59

Globalization is a broad concept being covered by various scholarly fields, as can be seen in The Globalization Reader. Roland Robertson has covered several of these, while Peter Beyer is one of the influential scholars who has focused on the connections between religion and globalization. Gregory Alles’ edited volume is an overview of the study of religion in a global framework. Arjun Appadurai, Manuel A. Vásquez, and Marie Friedmann Marquardt have all theorized the field from anthropological perspectives. Marc Juergensmeyer and Wade Clark Wolf’s encyclopaedia and Véronique Altglas’s four-volume series on the topic provide comprehensive insights into the field, while the review article by Victor Roudometof on globalization provides a well-structured introduction to the field, including references to topics such as transnationalism, spirituality, secularization, and religious studies in general. Several studies have been carried out on globalization and individual religions (e.g., Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and of course Buddhism) and on topics related to religion (e.g., spirituality, secularization, and diaspora). Books, articles, and occasional special issues of journals investigate such topics. A special issue of the e-journal Religions was devoted to the study of glocal religion.

Further Reading

  • Alles, Gregory D., ed. Religious Studies: A Global View. London: Routledge, 2008.
  • Altglas, Veronique., ed. Religion and Globalization: Critical Concepts in Social Studies. 4 vols. London: Routledge, 2010.
  • Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
  • Juergensmeyer, Marc, and Wade Clark Wolf, eds. Encyclopedia of Global Religion. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2011.
  • Lecher, Frank J., and John Boli, eds. The Globalization Reader. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.
  • Religions. Special issue: Glocal religion, 9 (10), 2018.
  • Robertson, Roland, and Jan Aart Stolte, eds. Encyclopedia of Globalization. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Vásquez, Manuel A., and Marie Friedmann Marquardt. Globalizing the Sacred: Religion across the Americas. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003.


  • 1. Martin Baumann, “Global Buddhism: Developmental Periods, Regional Histories, and a New Analytical Perspective,” Journal of Global Buddhism 2 (2001): 2.

  • 2. Baumann, “Global Buddhism,” 2; and Pew Research Center, The Changing Global Religious Landscape (2017, April 5).

  • 3. Roland Robertson, Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture (London: SAGE, 1992), 8.

  • 4. John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 2.

  • 5. Robertson, Globalization, 59.

  • 6. Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 23–30.

  • 7. Tamar Hodos, ed., The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization (London: Routledge, 2017).

  • 8. Ulrich Beck, Risk Society (London: SAGE, 1992).

  • 9. On arguments from supporters and sceptics, see Cees J. Hamelink, “The Elusive Concept of Globalisation,” Global Dialogue 1, no. 1 (1999): 1–9.

  • 10. Mark Rupert, Ideologies of Globalization: Contending Visions of a New World Order (London: Taylor & Francis, 2012).

  • 11. Robertson, Globalization.

  • 12. Victor Roudometof , “Globalization,” in Handbook of Religion and Society, ed. David Yamane (New York: Springer, 2016), 508.

  • 13. Lionel Obadia, “Globalisation and new geographies of religion: new regimes in the movement, circulation, and territoriality of cults and beliefs,” International Social Science Journal 63 (2014): 148.

  • 14. On the continuously expanding literature on religion and globalization, see Peter Beyer, Religion and Globalization (London: SAGE, 1994); Peter Beyer, Religions in Global Society (London: SAGE, 2006); Veronique. Altglas, Religion and Globalization: Critical Concepts in Social Studies, 4 vols. (London: Routledge, 2010); and Roudometof, “Globalization,” 505–524.

  • 15. Mark Juergensmeyer, “Thinking Globally About Religion,” in The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions, ed. Mark Juergensmeyer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 4, 4, 5.

  • 16. Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) explores the historical and hegemonic basis of the concept of world religions. That modernity and functional differentiation (and in turn the roots of globalization) were indeed also part of non-Western history is argued in, for instance, Ugo Dessi, The Global Repositioning of Japanese Religions: An Integrated Approach (London: Routledge, 2017).

  • 17. Roudometof, “Globalization,” 518.

  • 18. Joseph Tamney, “Afterword: Modernization, Globalization, and Buddhism,” in North American Buddhists in Social Context, ed. Paul D. Numrich (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 235.

  • 19. Jørn Borup, “Spiritual capital and religious evolution: Buddhist values and transactions in historical and contemporary perspective,” Journal of Global Buddhism 20 (2019): 49–68.

  • 20. Tilman Frasch, “Buddhist Councils in a Time of Transition: Globalism, Modernity and the Preservation of Textual Traditions,” Contemporary Buddhism 14, no. 1 (2013): 41.

  • 21. Jørn Borup, “Managing and Negotiating Asian Religious Unities and Diversities,” in The Critical Analysis of Religious Diversity, ed. Lene Kühle, William Hoverd, and Jørn Borup (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 128–146.

  • 22. David L. McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • 23. Gananath Obeyesekere, “Religious Symbolism and Political Change in Ceylon,” Modern Ceylon Studies 1 (1970): 43–63.

  • 24. On Buddhism, Orientalism and reverse Orientalism, see Jørn Borup, “Zen and the Art of Inverting Orientalism: Religious Studies and Genealogical Networks,” in New Approaches to the Study of Religion, ed. Pages Antes, Armin W. Geertz, and Randi R. Warne (Berlin: Verlag de Gruyter, 2004), 451–487. For an example of how Western Orientalist essentializations are used in contemporary Chinese scholarship on Buddhism, see John Powers, “Tibet and China’s Orientalists: Knowledge, Power, and the Construction of Minority Identity,” Journal of Global Buddhism 19 (2018): 1–19.

  • 25. Cristina Rocha, “Buddhism and globalization,” in Buddhism in the Modern World, ed. David McMahan (New York: Routledge, 2012), 289–303.

  • 26. Baumann, “Global Buddhism.”

  • 27. Baumann, “Global Buddhism,” 6.

  • 28. Scott Mitchell, Buddhism in America: Global Religion, Local Contexts (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 245.

  • 29. Mitchell, Buddhism in America, 245.

  • 30. Mitchell, Buddhism in America, 240.

  • 31. Baumann, “Global Buddhism,” 5.

  • 32. Cameron Warner, “On the Road from Hinduism to Buddhism: Global Buddhism, the Conversion of Nepali Hindus, and What Comes Between,” in Eastspirit: Transnational Spirituality and Religious Circulation in East and West, ed. Jørn Borup and Marianne Fibiger (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 251.

  • 33. John Harding, “Trailblazers of Global Buddhist Networks,” Contemporary Buddhism 17, no. 2 (2016): 393–404.

  • 34. Brooke Schedneck, “Buddhist International Organizations,” in The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism, ed. Michael Jerryson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 398.

  • 35. For an overview of international Buddhist groups, see Schedneck, “Buddhist International Organizations”; see Thich Nhat Tu, ed., Buddhism around the World (Hanoi: Religion Publisher, 2019), for an example of a United Nations-sponsored project (the United Nations Day of Vesak) and its publication on Buddhism around the World.

  • 36. The often-quoted passage apparently refers to a conversation with the Dalai Lama some years back, quoted also in a feelgood book on Buddhism: Robert Wright, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017), xii.

  • 37. David L. McMahan and Erik Braun, eds., Meditation, Buddhism, and Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). Even in Pure Land Buddhism, meditation has been used (in Hawaii) as a means to attract non-Asians, see Dessi, The Global Repositioning of Japanese Religions, 98–130.

  • 38. Cristina Rocha, “Buddhism and globalization,” in Buddhism in the Modern World, ed. David McMahan (New York: Routledge, 2012), 295.

  • 39. Baumann, “Global Buddhism,” 5.

  • 40. Some migrant Buddhists have found a “purer” form of global Buddhism in America. Taiwanese immigrants used to see Buddhism in Taiwan as a backward folk religion (Tamney, “Afterword,” 234).

  • 41. On Buddhism “coming back” to India in its globalized forms, see Elizabeth Lane Williams-Oerberg, “Young Buddhism: Analyzing Transnational Currents of Religion through ‘Youth’,” in EASTSPIRIT: Transnational Spirituality and Religious Circulation in East and West, ed. Jørn Borup & Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2017), 255–278; and on Buddhism around the world, see Michael Jerryson, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

  • 42. On the Two Buddhisms model, see Paul Numrich, “Two Buddhisms Further Considered,” Contemporary Buddhism 4 no. 1 (2003): 55–78; on criticism of the model, see Hickey Wakoh Shannon, “Two Buddhisms, Three Buddhisms, and Racism,” Journal of Global Buddhism 11 (2010): 1–25.

  • 43. Robertson, Globalization, 178.

  • 44. Cultural chauvinism is also one of the underlying discourses in Japanese global Buddhism, as analyzed in Dessi, The Global Repositioning of Japanese Religions.

  • 45. Jørn Borup, “Who Owns Religion? Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Cultural Appropriation in Post-Global Buddhism,” Numen 67, 2-3 (2020): 226–255.

  • 46. Ann Gleig, American Buddhism After Modernity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), 285.

  • 47. Gleig, American Buddhism, 290.

  • 48. Gleig, American Buddhism, 292ff, 298ff.

  • 49. Richard K. Payne, “White-Washing the Buddhisms: Unacknowledged Privilege and the Making of a White-Safe Buddhism,” in Richard K. Payne (2016, December 12).

  • 50. Jeff Wilson, Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 64.

  • 51. Gleig, American Buddhism, 154.

  • 52. Gleig, American Buddhism, 5.

  • 53. Gleig, American Buddhism, 173.

  • 54. Baumann, “Global Buddhism.”

  • 55. McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism; David L. McMahan, Buddhism in the Modern World (New York: Routledge, 2012); and Cristina Rocha, “Buddhism and globalization,” in Buddhism in the Modern World, ed. David McMahan (New York: Routledge, 2012), 289–303.

  • 56. Charles S. Prebish and Martin Baumann, eds., Westward Dharma. Buddhism beyond Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

  • 57. Mitchell, Buddhism in America; and Paul Numrich, “Two Buddhisms Further Considered,” Contemporary Buddhism 4 no. 1 (2003): 55–78; and Hickey Wakoh Shannon, “Two Buddhisms, Three Buddhisms, and Racism,” Journal of Global Buddhism 11 (2010): 1–25.

  • 58. Ann Gleig, American Buddhism After Modernity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019); and Jørn Borup, “Who Owns Religion?”.

  • 59. Michael Jerryson, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).