Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - 'Particular Universalism' in a Transnational Buddhist Youth Peace Movement

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Park Tower 8219, Lobby Level

In the 1930s, as the Pacific region tilted toward total war, Buddhist youth from India to British Columbia created an ambitious transnational peace movement based on their religious values. This peace movement was one of a number of modernist organizations, including a Honolulu-based publishing house and international Buddhist universities, that they hoped would help propel the planet into a new “Pacific era” in which the Dharma, stripped of sectarian dogmas and disputes, would help enact world peace. While it sought to enact an internationalist and anti-sectarian agenda, its leadership and membership were dominated by Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land Sect, hereafter Shin) Buddhists from Japan, Hawaii, and North America, and much of its literature and activities reproduced the same sectarian triumphalism and imperial ideologies it labored to dismantle.

This paper analyzes English- and Japanese-language literature published in the 1930s to investigate how the Buddhist visions of world peace offered by Shin youth and their leaders in Japan, Hawaii, and California engaged with rising nationalism, militarism, and xenophobia in their home countries. It applies a model of “particular universalism” to explain how these actors imagined sectarian teachings would overcome religious divides and national identities could foster international harmony. It describes diverse rhetorical positions under the aegis of “Buddhist democracy,” from ethno-nationalist apologies for colonial projects to post-nationalist renunciations of divisive tribalism. This analysis illuminates the ideologies that drew their nations to war and nearly-forgotten dissents that attempted to forge peace.

Justin B. Stein

Bukkyo University, New York

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