Stephen Licha

The Divinity School is pleased to announce a public lecture by Stephen Licha: "Variable Incarnations - Buddhist Modernism and the Materiality of Awakening"

Wednesday, February 15, 4:30pm, Common Room

When Japanese Buddhists first arrived in Europe in the eighteen seventies to investigate its civilizational and religious circumstances, they accosted their native informants with the demand to be taught “scientific religion.” This episode suggests that no matter how one may wish to define the modern categories of “Buddhism” or “religion,” their global emergence from the latter half of the nineteenth century onwards is inextricably bound to the encounter with the natural sciences and their often radically materialistic and secularist claims.

Whereas previous scholarship has often emphasized the invention of “Buddhism” as part of an Orientalist regime and its strategic appropriation by local actors, this lecture will argue that the notion of “Buddhism as the Eastern world religion” also served as a viral vector through which Buddhist traditions could reproduce their own indigenous concerns und soteriological claims in a newly globalized discursive space. As such, they were active contributors to the formation of Buddhist modernism and, in turn, modern “religion.” The lecture will conclude by reflecting on the contributions that the study of Japanese Buddhism can make to the project of a global history of religion.

Stephan Kigensan Licha is a faculty member in the Department of Japanese Studies at the University of Heidelberg. He received his PhD from SOAS in 2012 and specializes in the intellectual history of Japanese Buddhism, with an emphasis on the interactions between the pre-modern tantric, Tendai, and Zen traditions, and the global history of Buddhist modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He has published widely on these topics, and his monograph, “Esoteric Zen: Zen and the Tantric Teachings in Premodern Japan” is forthcoming from Brill.