Beyond the Mainland: Buddhism and Mobility in Maritime Southeast Asia @ 2017 AAS

Beyond the Mainland: Buddhism and Mobility in Maritime Southeast Asia

Fri, March 17, 12:45 to 2:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 4th Floor, Forest Hill

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel


Mention “Southeast Asian Buddhism” and what comes to mind is often Theravāda Buddhism, the dominant religion in the mainland Southeast Asian states of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, and the Mahāyāna Buddhism in Vietnam. Recent scholarship has started to pay more attention to the presence of Buddhism in the Islamic Malay world, Catholic Philippines, and the Chinese-majority Singapore. This panel aims to contribute to the ongoing conversation by analyzing the varied forms of Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia. Whereas most studies of Buddhism in Southeast Asia have focused on the mainland, the papers in this panel place emphasis on Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia, and its transnational connections with mainland Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and beyond. Wenxue Zhang uses the case of Zhuandao to analyze the Buddhist networks and brotherhood ties between China and Singapore in the first half of twentieth century. Jack Meng-Tat Chia discusses Ashin Jinarakkhita’s Buddhayāna movement in postcolonial Indonesia, and argues that the monk’s reform of Buddhist teachings was a calculated strategy to ensure the survival of Buddhism in Muslim-majority Indonesia. Yu-Chen Li examines the transnational religious career of Malaysian Chinese monk, Chi Chern, who is a significant figure in the globalization of Taiwanese Buddhism. Manuel Sapitula investigates the appropriation of Buddhist-inspired meditation practices, and accounts for the emergence of religious pluralism in present-day Philippines. Justin McDaniel will comment on these papers in the light of his research on Buddhism in Southeast Asian societies.

Area of Study

  • Southeast

Session Organizer

  • Jack Meng-Tat Chia, Cornell University


  • Justin T. McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania

Individual Submissions

  • Spreading Buddhism across the Seas: Zhuandao in Singapore – Wenxue Zhang, Institute for Philanthropy Tsinghua University
  • Nusantara’s Dharma: Ashin Jinarakkhita and the Buddhayāna Movement – Jack Meng-Tat Chia, Cornell University
  • Teaching Meditation in Malaysia, Taiwan, and America: The Transnational Career of Venerable Chi Chern – Yu-chen Li, National Chengchi University
  • Buddhist Meditation and Emerging Pluralism in the Philippines – Manuel Victor Jamias Sapitula, University of the Philippines Diliman


  • Justin T. McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania

SEAP Gatty Lecture Series: “Dharma in Motion: Buddhism and Mobility across the South China Sea”

SEAP Gatty Lecture Series:
“Dharma in Motion: Buddhism and Mobility across the South China Sea”

Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm 

Kahin Center 640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

Jack Meng-Tat Chia, PhD Candidate, History, Cornell University

Chia’s talk will reconsider Kuah-Pearce’s concept of  “reformist Buddhism” through the case of Yen Pei. He argues for the need to historicize “reformist Buddhism” in the Singapore context and to consider the Buddhist networks linking multiple nodes that circulated people, ideas, practices, and money between China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and beyond. In addition, he will demonstrate that a study of the transnational biography of Yen Pei is a fine example of how an individual life, examined in grainy detail, can offer insights into Buddhism and modernity in Asia. At a broader level, the case of Yen Pei reveals how Singapore’s Buddhist history was intertwined with the larger history of the modernization and globalization of Chinese-language Buddhism in the twentieth century.