Mark Rowe
Associate Professor, Religious Studies

I am currently collecting biographies of “non-eminent” monks. This title is meant to evoke (as well as offer a corrective to) the tendency in Buddhist studies to focus on famous exemplars of the tradition at the cost of “regular” priests. Scholarly focus on normative writings, such as doctrinal texts and the teachings of founders, often assumes that this literature describes how priests and parishioners actually relate to and practice their religion. Whereas these approaches cannot always attend to the constant reshaping of religious teachings in different settings and at different levels of a given organization, my research will focus on the various ways that Buddhism is negotiated and constructed to fit particular contexts, specifically how doctrinal ideals are transmitted to priests and how they then try to stay true to those teachings while adapting them to the needs of their parishioners. By exploring the lives of Japanese priests who epitomize how Buddhist teachings actually play out or do not play out on the ground, I hope to offer a more realistic vision of the conflicts and contradictions inherent in the tradition than frameworks that would seek to locate temples in a given sectarian lineage and then approach those temples as unproblematic reflections of doctrinal orthodoxy. I am particularly concerned to determine how, in the priests’ views, their training and education work both in support of and in tension with their daily activities.
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