Buddhist Contramodernism: Shinnyo-en’s Reconfigurations of Tradition for Modernity

Casey R. Collins


Shinnyo-en, and other twentieth-century Buddhist lay movements emerging from older monastic and temple institutions, reconfigures elements of “traditional” Buddhism and “folk” religion to meet the conditions of modernity. Shinnyo-en’s founders and their successors envisioned a particular strategy for being Buddhist in modernity, one which aligns with some, but not all, scholarly characterizations of Buddhist modernism. As a result, Shinnyo-en and other lay organizations have largely remained on the margins of Buddhist studies despite their apparent popularity and proliferation. This article offers a new category for theorizing and positioning such organizations as contramodern—connected with, but divergent from mainstream forms of Buddhist modernism. In this light the emergence of Shinnyo-en in the 1930s, and the soteriological centrality of its founders’ lives, can be better understood in their historical and social contexts as being both connected to over one-thousand years of Shingon tradition and completely unique. The concept of contramodernism opens scholarly discussion of the many forms of Buddhism extant in modernity to those movements and organizations that are historically new, yet not entirely modernist.


Shinnyo-en; Shingon; Buddhist modernism; contramodernism; new religions

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4030975


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