David McMahan, "The Making of Buddhist Modernism" (Oxford UP, 2008)


For many Asian and Western Buddhists today, Buddhism means meditation and an embrace of the world's interdependence. But that's not what it meant to Buddhists in the past; most of them never meditated and often saw interdependence (or dependent origination) as something fearful to be escaped. Many scholars, especially recently, have told this story of the transition from pre-modern to modern Buddhism, but often with no other purpose than to dismiss modern Buddhism as inauthentic, a departure from the "real" Buddhism of ritual chanting and sacred relics. David McMahan's book The Making of Buddhist Modernism (Oxford University Press, 2008) tells the story of Buddhist modernism in a balanced way, one that acknowledges its novelty yet remains sympathetic to its concerns and interests. McMahan, who is a professor of religious studies at Franklin and Marshall College, theorizes not only Buddhism but also modernity. Using Charles Taylor's account of modern life, he explores the forces that changed Buddhism in recent centuries. McMahan discusses typically cited factors (e.g., the emphasis on meditation, the belief in science), but also seldom mentioned (though important) elements of Buddhist modernism like affirmations of nature, interdependence, and everyday life.

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