- Establishing a Pure Land on Earth: The Foguang Buddhist Perspective on Modernization and Globalization
Stuart Chandler has written a fine book on Foguangshan 佛光山, the formidably large and high-profile Taiwan-based multinational Buddhist organization that aims to bring Chinese Buddhism into the age of globalization. In the tradition of Holmes Welch's Reform of Chinese Buddhism, Chandler has turned years of on-the-ground observation into a synoptic description of contemporary Buddhist modernism that is especially readable. Because this is an ethnography rather than a theoretic enterprise, its general reflections on globalization and postmodernity [End Page 67] are sparse and do not match the rest of the book in quality, even contradicting it significantly. Nevertheless, Chandler has provided an excellent case study that is not theory-laden but is theoretically relevant.
Chandler wishes to fill a gap in the debates on globalization and modernization carried on by Immanuel Wallerstein, Peter Berger, S. N. Eisenstadt, and others. Heretofore, he writes, have mostly debated problems in the abstract, and so far "there has been no sustained inquiry into how one particular modernist religious group has understood and adapted to globalization" (p. 5). Chandler hopes remedy this defect.
In particular, Chandler is interested in whether or not globalization will suppress cultural diversity and foster a single, homogenous culture (he believes will not), and whether religion and other such cultural complexes are mere epiphenomena of the forces of production and exchange, or whether instead (as Chandler believes) they independently interpret and influence the forces of global capitalism.
Though written with these debates in mind, Chandler's book seldom addresses them directly. Rather, it confines most of its theoretic material to the very thin introduction and conclusion, comprising just a dozen pages. Elsewhere, relates and interprets the particulars of Foguangshan's teachings, self-understanding, and operations, including its theology, its finances and holdings, its role politics, and its organizational sociology.
For the most part this is a satisfying arrangement, because Chandler makes entertaining reading of these ethnographic particulars and because he thus leaves the ethnographic part wide open to the general-interest reader who finds global studies too arid a terrain and but takes an interest in the landscape of modern Chinese Buddhism. So, for example, any buddhologists or sinologists who enjoy the work of Jiang Canteng, Charles Jones, and Donald Pittman will appreciate Chandler's contribution and can, if they wish, ignore the Weberian questions buried beneath without losing anything of importance.
Nevertheless, at times, even the general-interest reader might wish that Chandler had expanded more on his observations. In particular, he makes a fascinating and persuasive case to replace the unsatisfying dichotomy of "secular/religious" with a retooled version of Mircea Eliade's categories of 'sacred' and 'profane' (pp. 24 ff.). Readers interested in religious studies will admire Chandler's chutzpah invoking the now-vilified Eliade and will probably find that Chandler's reformed understanding of 'sacred/profane' has much to recommend it. However, having broached this daring, intriguing idea, Chandler moves on almost immediately another topic. I would have read about the sacred and the profane with rapt attention for another fifty or sixty pages if Chandler had allowed it.
Where the book shines is in its information on how Foguangshan conceives of the Buddhist tradition and how it operates. He describes the Foguang variant of the Buddhist tradition, called "Humanistic Buddhism" (renjian fojiao 人間佛 [End Page 68] 教), with what is for the most part admirable fidelity and analytic depth. Critics deride the Foguang order for teaching a demythologized Buddhism that turns its back on traditional Buddhist otherworldliness, but Chandler shows plainly that Foguang literature and practice abound with faith in the supernatural. Detractors criticize Foguangshan for teaching a deracinated simulacrum of Buddhism that resembles liberal Protestant progressivism as much as it does the tradition of Linji and Zhuhong, but Chandler points out the many continuities of Foguang Buddhism with the historical tradition, and though he is...