“Being with”: Buddhism, precarity and volunteers in the time of Covid-19
Open lecture with Erica Baffelli, Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester in the UK.
This paper addresses issues related to precarity and marginalities by looking at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Buddhist organizations working with volunteers. More specifically, it examines how such organizations address the increasing needs of the most vulnerable in society while also dealing with new challenges and restrictions. It focuses in particular on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the social welfare activities of a Buddhist organization, Hitosaji no Kai (One Spoonful Association), in Japan.
Hitosaji no Kai is a Buddhist organization initially established by Jōdo Shū Buddhist priests. Since 2009 it has mainly operated in the San’ya district in Tokyo, an area previously known as one of Japan’s major yoseba(gathering places for day-labourers). One of its founders, Rev. Gakuken Yoshimizu was born in the area and his temple Kōshō-in serves as the headquarters of Hitosaji no Kai. The association collaborates with local communities and NPOs in supporting people in need, both by providing food, medical advice and help with applications to welfare support schemes and by creating a connection between volunteers and people living in the area.
In this talk we will narrate a day as a volunteer at Hitosaji no Kai as a way to discuss different networks and grassroots activities linked to the organization, how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on them and what this could tell us about Buddhism in contemporary Japan.
Erica Baffelli is Professor of Japanese Studies at The University of Manchester (UK). Her research interests lie in religion in contemporary Japan with a focus on religious minorities/marginalities, media, violence, emotions and temporalities. Her publications include: Baffelli, Castiglioni and Rambelli eds. The Bloomsbury Handbook of Japanese Religions (2021); Baffelli, Caple, McLaughlin, Schröer eds. “The Aesthetics and Emotions of Religious Belonging: Examples from the Buddhist World”, Special Issue of Numen(2021); (with Ian Reader) Dynamism and the Ageing of a Japanese 'New' Religion ( 2019); Media and New Religions in Japan (2016).