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Title: Postsecular awakening : vision and commitment in a Western Buddhist community
Author: Whillis, Daniel Patrick
ISNI:       0000 0004 2729 6390
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis presents a sustained engagement with the notion of postsecularism. While increasingly influential, this idea remains conceptually underdeveloped and empirically untested. The interpretation developed herein explores postsecularism as an ethos of awakening to the persistence of certain widely purported anxieties of the secular age, and to the possibility of their transcendence. On this understanding 'postsecularism' signifies something genuinely distinctive: irreducible to either the 'revival' or the 'privatization' of religion, or to the perpetuation of secularization. Whether or not it will thrive as a conceptual contribution remains to be seen, but what of its traction for developing forms of spiritual vision and commitment in an era of 'fragilized' meanings and identities? An exploration of 'Modern' or 'Western' Buddhism - traditionally the religion of 'awakening' - is particularly suited to such an enquiry. The Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order) provides a pertinent case, given its overtly adaptive approach to Western modernity but continued emphasis on community. Fieldwork was carried out at one of its major urban centres - the Bristol Buddhist Centre. Twenty-five in-depth interviews were conducted with individuals who were typically moving from largely secular positions, into various levels of engagement with Buddhism, ranging from relative beginners to ordained Order Members. The theoretical and empirical analysis of the thesis moves beyond the popular paradigm of 'self- spirituality' and explores the significance of social practices on changing sensibilities of the self. Buddhism is found to provide a context for the embodied, collective learning of praxes - both emotional and cognitive - that gradually loosen attachment to certain central principles/anxieties of the secular age (e.g., rationalist suspicion, possessive individualism, and ethical emotivism). It thereby opens up space for the emergence of 'practical faith,' identity commitment, and resolute engagement with ethical values, pursued according to a principle of 'exemplification' rather than 'proselytisation.' Transformation is typically gradual, often disjointed, and involves the negotiation of considerable ambivalences, but does tend in a coherent and essentially postsecular direction. It is therefore argued that contemporary Buddhism can provide a useful, working example of postsecularism, the wider social significance of which nevertheless remains an open question.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available