Buddhism and France history
R e s e a r c h A r t i c l e
Tibetan Buddhism in France: A Missionary Religion?
Lecturer in Anthropology
Over the past ten years, an increasing amount of research has focused on the history of Buddhism in the West. General overviews including those of Rick Fields (1992) or Stephen Batchelor (1994), while providing detailed accounts of the propagation of Buddhism in North America and Europe, remain primarily descriptive. Case studies, on the other hand, while they tend to be somewhat more analytical, are often limited to a discussion of the arrival of a single school or branch of Buddhism in a specific context. Consequently, no general theory of Buddhist diffusion has been yet formulated. In addition, most of these studies deal with the consequences rather than the causes of the settlement of Buddhist traditions. The issues of acculturation, adaptation or change within Buddhism are indeed more frequently examined than the underlying processes of Buddhist dissemination. On another hand some interesting theoretical accounts of the diffusion of Buddhism in recent scholarship allow us to reexamine the Westward spread of Buddhism in the light of a "missionary" hypothesis.
1. The diffusion of Buddhism in the West: reception or transmission?
The diffusion and the settlement of Buddhism in the West are usually explained by means of two theoretical approaches, actually both related to a same explicative framework. The first, as proposed by Batchelor (1994), examines two types of factors: ideological changes in the West and cultural contacts between East and West. Batchelor thus accounts for the transformations of the Western attitudes toward Buddhism and the increasing contacts between Buddhists and Westerners, as a result of which the West has shifted its perception of Buddhism from a purely intellectual vision to an active engagement. A second and complementary approach, which goes beyond Western representations of the East and localized situation of contact between East and West, focuses upon the broader sociological context and conditions that have allowed for the penetration of Buddhist ideas into the West and the adoption of Buddhist practices, that is, the rise of Orientalism, the secularization of mainstream churches, and expanding religious pluralism.
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