“Global Buddhism: Developmental Periods, Regional Histories, and a New Analytical Perspective”

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The history of Buddhism in the West had already started about 150 years ago. Buddhism in the West does not consist only of white, educated, urban middle-class people who have taken up Buddhism. It also is made up of the numerous Asian immigrants whose dominant religious tradition were Buddhist. An occurrence of the parallelism between traditionalist and modernist Buddhist congregations at traditionalist temples – when viewed in a global perspective – provides opportunities to observe processes of modernization or Westernization of traditionalist Buddhism. These processes of change, rationalization, and modernization can be studied in settings outside Asia.

In order to study these particular settings outside of Asia, Baumann (2001) points to implications of making use of an proposed analytical perspective looking at contemporary developments and the current level of Buddhist presence to be related back to the periods and places of formation in Asia. This certainly highlights the developments and changes that modernist Buddhist traditions in Asia themselves have experienced, most often highly influenced by Western ideas. Therefore, when applying this perspective it is suggested that it pays attention to the interconnectedness of East and West. This same perspective can also be used to look at Buddhism in Western settings as strands of traditionalist and modernist forms and worldviews. The differentiation of these strands is based onthe tripartite periodization of the history Buddhism: canonical, traditionalist, and modernist. The main line of difference herein is not only one of people and ethnic ancestry. Rather, in shaping these strands the religious concepts held and practices followed are of primary importance.

Considering the tripartite periodization of the history of Buddhism in this way, a periodized Buddhist form – internally manifold and which consists of different interpretive understandings and approaches – then, makes it possible to take an further step in this same established periodization. Baumann (2001) proposed to conceptualize this subsequent, fourth period, that of ‘post-modernist’, or – perhaps more meaningful – ‘global Buddhism’. Whereas modernist Buddhists have demythologized and rationalized traditionalist Buddhism – and in a related way certain post-modernist Buddhists secularize and psychologize modernist Buddhism – global Buddhism can, thus, be considered to be neither monolithic nor standardized and neither static nor fixed.

In this way Buddhism can be understood as a “cumulative religious tradition” (George Bond,1988: 22) that has changed over time. However, despite all the changes, it has succeeded in regaining an unique identity.



Reference: Baumann, Martin, Global Buddhism: Developmental Periods, Regional Histories, and a New Analytical Perspective, in Journal of Global Buddhism 2 (2001): 1-43.

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