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Democratizing “Engaged Buddhism”

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 30, 2023

Beyond Queen and King: Democratizing “Engaged Buddhism”

Donna Lynn Brown
University of Manitoba

What counts as Buddhist social engagement? Why, in Buddhist Studies, do certain forms of engagement and certain Buddhists often not count? This article argues that the limits that scholars Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King placed around Buddhist engagement in the 1990s—limits that produced a rough consensus in Buddhist Studies—should be democratized to include all Buddhists and their social engagement. For years, criticism of these limits and research that circumvents them have appeared without seriously undermining them. However, 2022 may mark a turning point. In that year, two publications, by Paul Fuller and Alexander Hsu, offered comprehensive and convincing arguments for considering all Buddhists’ socially oriented activities “engaged.” This article examines the consensus on the nature of Buddhist engagement, its origins in activism, research that dissents from it, and critiques it has faced. The article assesses dissent and critiques and considers why, until recently, they have had little effect. It then discusses why Fuller’s and Hsu’s publications represent a turning point and proposes new areas of research beyond those even these two scholars suggest.

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