This short essay draws up the principal ideas from a book chapter concerning the historical field of Chinese religions in comparative context in order to identify its distinctive problems and possible pathways. In order to distinguish religions in the Sinosphere from other state-religion relationships in the longue durée, we need to identify how the state and religions have managed the question of transcendence. Scholars working with the Axial Age theories of religion have often expressed confusion or hesitation with regard to Chinese notions of transcendence. I argue that Chinese religions have a transcendent dimensions often missed by analysts because they operate with an Abrahamic notion of radical transcendence and dualism rather than what I call “dialogical transcendence.”
Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’
Fifty years ago, Alan Watts popularized ideas of eastern philosophy and religion. Open Culture shares a relic of the past.
At 13.7: Cosmos and Culture, a blog sponsored by NPR, astrophysicist Adam Frank takes on the changing relationship between Buddhism and science. Early interest in Buddhism among scientists had to do with an assumed parallel between the principles of quantum physics and ancient truths of eastern religion. In Frank’s estimation, this 1970s discussion was “mostly silly.”
More recently, however, the discussion has shifted. Today, scientists take an interest in Buddhism in hopes of learning something about mind and consciousness.
Globalization is not defined by one-way Westernization, argues Peter Berger in his new blog at The American Interest Online. Rather, it is a far more complex process than is commonly imagined, and this is indicated, for starters, by the often overlooked influence of Eastern traditions on contemporary Western culture.
Michael Jerryson discusses his new book Buddhist Warfare, co-edited with Mark Juergensmeyer, at Religion Dispatches, explaining “how the notion of a purely mystical and otherworldly Buddhism—promoted by some of the great interpreters of the tradition—denies its adherents’ humanity.”
On the January 4th edition of FOX News Sunday, Brit Hume gave this surprising advice to Tiger Woods in the wake of his marital infidelity: “He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’” While not out of character for FOX News, these words triggered an immediate debate over the place of religious proselytizing in broadcast journalism.
If the idea of purification is to retain broad currency across the colonial landscape, it may need to be defined differently, more in terms of separating out truth from falsehood, or the divine from the diabolical, than of fixing boundaries between the spiritual and the material. While questions of ontological difference could be salient in Sumba and certain other mission fields, the distinctions drawn between persons and things in acts of purification fail to account for other important distinctions drawn between persons themselves.
David Brooks’s op-ed, “The Neural Buddhists,” is premised on a variety of conceptual confusions that are worth trying to clear up, although the widespread nature of some of these confusions says something quite interesting about innate human cognitive biases. I think he is mistaken about the precise character of the cultural impact of recent neuroscientific work, but the kinds of mistakes he makes points toward ways in which the contemporary neuroscientific model of the self continues to be misunderstood. […]
The first three postings in this series remind us how complex the individual topics of cognitive science, Buddhism, and religious experience can be. Certainly there are many interpretations of each—many more than an entire monograph could account for, let alone a column in the New York Times—and reminders of the density of such topics are valuable and need to be repeated. But the cultural phenomenon that David Brooks’s column describes is its own topic altogether. Just what this phenomenon is will probably take a while for historians to describe and for critical scholars to assess. My preliminary suggestion is that we are witnessing an aesthetic urge, in which scientists and Buddhists find common cause in their pursuit of a beautiful—albeit potentially dangerous— “theory of everything.” […]
A century ago, in “Religion and Neurology,” the opening chapter of The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James argued against a “medical materialism” that would reduce religious experiences to their neurological causes for the purpose either of dismissing them or confirming them. Since that time, many have tried to understand religion through the study of religious experience and, like James, many have given special attention to mysticism. New techniques for the study of the brain have brought great advances, but David Brooks’s New York Times column “The Neural Buddhists” and the work of Andrew Newberg, to whom he refers, stand squarely in the tradition James was criticizing. […]
On Sunday May 25, 2008 the New York Times published an article entitled “Superhighway to Bliss” about Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke in 1996. After she regained the ability to speak, she described the experience as “nirvana.” Neuropathology as religious experience is nothing new, yet the next day, the piece was number one on the Times list of most e-mailed articles. In the Science Times section of the paper the following Tuesday, there was an article entitled “Lotus Therapy,” on the growing use of the meditation cushion to treat problems previously consigned to the analyst’s couch. The next day, “Lotus Therapy” had taken over the top spot as the most e-mailed article. Clearly, something is going on. But that had become clear two weeks earlier when the conservative commentator David Brooks entitled his May 13 op-ed piece, “The Neural Buddhists.” […]
To appreciate the cultural impact of the “cognitive revolution” discussed by David Brooks in his New York Times op-ed column “The Neural Buddhists” (May 13, 2008), we need to be clear about what has and has not been revolutionized by neuroscience. Brooks gets the research essentially right, but he overlooks some key issues raised by “neural Buddhism” that make me question his view of its future effects on religion and culture. […]