[CANCELLED] Guest Lecture: Buddhist Modernism, Meditation, and Mindfulness Revisited

[Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash]



Speaker: Robert Sharf (D.H. Chen Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies, University of California Berkeley)

When: 7:30 pm–9 pm, Thursday, March 19, 2020

Venue: Ghent University, Library Lab Magnel, Arts and Philosophy Faculty Library, Rozier 44

This lecture is part of the Buddhist Studies Lecture Series at the Ghent Centre for Buddhist Studies.


“Buddhist modernism” evolved out of a complex intellectual exchange that took place between Asia and the West over the last century. In very general terms, Buddhist modernists hold that Buddhism, properly understood, is not so much a “religion” as it is a “spiritual technology” designed to bring about a liberating psychological and spiritual transformation. The technology is comprised of meditation, which is often identified by Buddhist modernists as the practice of mindfulness. Scholars have justly criticized this approach to Buddhism for being historically and ethnographically naïve. (Indeed, some have argued that construing Buddhism as a “science of happiness” turns Buddhism on its head!) But putting aside a scholar’s concern with historical accuracy and theoretical sophistication, one might ask what harm there is in popularizing Buddhism in this manner? After all, Buddhism spread and survived for two thousand years precisely by adapting itself to local needs and norms. This talk will consider the issue of what is at stake—historically, sociologically, and philosophically—in reducing Buddhism to meditation, and meditation to mindfulness.

About the Speaker:
Professor Robert SHARF received his B.A. (Religious Studies) and M.A. (Chinese Studies) from the University of Toronto and his Ph.D. (Buddhist Studies) from the University of Michigan. He taught at McMaster University (1989–95) and the University of Michigan (1995–2003) before joining the Berkeley faculty. He works primarily in the area of medieval Chinese Buddhism (especially Chan), but he also dabbles in Japanese Buddhism, Buddhist art, ritual studies, and methodological issues in the study of religion. He is author of Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise (2002), co-editor of Living Images: Japanese Buddhist Icons in Context (2001), and is currently working on a book tentatively titled How to Read a Zen Koan. In addition to his appointment in EALC he serves as Director of the Group in Buddhist Studies, Director of Religious Studies, and Chair of the Center for Buddhist Studies.