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Buddhist scholars across a range of disciplines have in recent decades subjected many fundamental categories of analysis to sustained, critical examination. In the process, they have opened up for investigation an expanding set of interpretive issues, while posing questions that fundamentally challenge many pre-existing scholarly presumptions, frameworks and models. This afternoon, ten scholars of Buddhism gathered at the Kahin Center for the “Rethinking Southeast Asian and Southern Buddhism” Workshop to scrutinize the paradigm shifts currently reconfiguring the scholarly treatment of Buddhism in mainland and maritime Southeast Asia. A range of topics were discussed, including engaged Buddhism, ethnicity, ethnography, law, networks, phenomenology, politico-religious practices, and syncretism.
Global City’s Dharma: Buddhism and Modernity in Singapore
Scheduled Time: Sat Mar 29 2014, 5:00 to 7:00pm Building/Room: Philadelphia Marriott, Level 5 – Grand Ballroom Salon L
Session Organizer: Jack Meng-Tat Chia (Cornell University)
Defending the Dharma: Buddhist Activism in a Global City-State
*Jack Meng-Tat Chia (Cornell University)
A Double-Edged Sword: Buddhist Evangelism Strategies in Present-Day Singapore
*Guan Thye Hue (Nanyang Technological University)
The Breaking Down of Sacred Ties: The Buddhicization of the Great Way of Former Heaven (Xiantiandao) in Contemporary Singapore
*Chang-hui Chi (National Quemoy University)
Transmitting Chinese Culture: Buddha’s Light Association As Cultural NGO in Singapore
*Wenxue Zhang (Tsinghua University)
Chair: Zhiru Ng (Pomona College)
Discussant: Zhiru Ng (Pomona College)
In Singapore, Buddhism makes up 33.3% of the population and is the majority religion in the country. The changing socio-political and economic environment in post-independence Singapore has forced Buddhism to change and cater to the modern needs of the Buddhists, the society, and the state. Since the 1970s, a modernizing movement towards Reformist Buddhism within the Singaporean population has resulted in the process of “Buddhicization” of Chinese religious syncretism whereby 65% of the Buddhists began to consider themselves as Reformist Buddhists (Kuah 2003). The papers in this panel explore how the reformist Buddhist movement has transformed the religious landscape of Singapore society. Jack Meng-Tat Chia examines the role of Singapore Buddhist Federation in the promotion of religious activism to advocate for canonical fundamentalism and preservation of doctrinal orthodoxy. Guan Thye Hue discusses the three-pronged Buddhist evangelism strategies in Singapore, and argues that such evangelism approaches are a double-edged sword in fostering the public image of Buddhism. Chang-hui Chi investigates how the reformist Buddhist movement has led to the Buddhicization of the Great Way of Former Heaven temples in Singapore. Wenxue Zhang uses the case of Buddha’s Light Association (Singapore) to analyse the role of Buddhist NGOs in the transmission of Chinese culture to Singaporean Chinese. Zhiru Ng will comment on these papers in the light of her current research on Buddhist modernity.
This panel is dedicated to the memory of Pattana Kitiarsa, whose work on Thai Buddhism in Singapore continues to be an inspiration to many.