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Culture Contact and Valuation: Early German Buddhists and the Creation of a ‘Buddhism in Protestant Shape’

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This paper handles the question concerning the factors that control the degree of adaptability of a transplanted religion spread in a culturally alien context. It will be argued that the assumed superiority of both one's religion and one's culture are decisive factors for the willingness to adapt or to refuse adaptation. The theoretical issues will be illustrated by the adoption of Buddhism by its early German followers. Thus, the paper gives a brief survey of the historical development of the adoption of Buddhism in Germany. Characteristics of the early phases will be outlined as well as the state of affairs of Buddhism in Germany in the 1990's. Most remarkable is Buddhism's rapid growth which increased the number of Buddhist centres and groups fivefold since the mid 1970's.

On the basis of this historic description a particular line of interpreting Buddhist teachings, that of a rational understanding, is outlined. The analysis of this adoption of Buddhism seeks to show that early German Buddhists interpreted and moulded Buddhist teachings in such a way as to present it as being in high conformity with Western morals and culture. This high degree of adapting Buddhist teachings led to an interpretation which can be characterized as a ‘Buddhism in Protestant shape.’ Buddhism was used as a means of protest against the dominant religion, that of Christianity, but at the same time its proponents took over many forms and characteristics of the religion criticized most heavily.

Affiliations: 1: Seminar für Religionswissenschaft Universität HannoverIm Moore 2130167 Hannover, Germany


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