The cost of doing Buddhism: gendered labour in Buddhist economies of belonging in contemporary rural Japan.
Open lecture with Paulina Kolata
Although Buddhists are often portrayed as rejecting the material world in favour of spiritual pursuits, all religious organisation in Japan (and elsewhere) have always been closely associated with money and materiality. The material and financial sponsorship of rituals, religious infrastructure and temple activities is what makes religion practicable, profitable and possible. In this talk, I invite you enter the world of regional Buddhist temple communities in contemporary Japan to explore “the how” and “the way” of voluntary and institutionalised practices of generosity that can sustain and fracture Buddhist economies. We will follow the story of repairs of a bell gate at one of the local temples in rural Hiroshima Prefecture. This temple community, along with the rest of the region, has been transformed by demographic changes epitomised in recent years by the materiality of abandoned households, ghost villages, and the phenomenon of lonely deaths. Hyper-ageing, low birth rates and rural-to-urban migration have revealed the fragility of Buddhist temple economies reliant on traditional kin-based religious affiliations, where Buddhist practice is often predicated upon inter-generational bequeathment of ritual responsibilities and Buddhist objects like family Buddhist altars, graves and other ritual paraphernalia used in memorial care for the dead. This kin-based affective model fuels the Buddhist circular economy, designed to generate, circulate, and accumulate religious/karmic value through practices of giving and religious labour. Such practices reveal not only how Buddhist temples are funded but also the gendered and institutionalised frameworks that shape Buddhist fundraising.
Paulina Kolata obtained her PhD in 2019 from The University of Manchester. She is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Manchester Metropolitan University and an Early Career Research Fellow at The University of Manchester. Her doctoral work investigated the religious, economic, and social impact of depopulation and demographic ageing in Buddhist temple communities in regional Japan. Currently she is developing a book manuscript based on her doctoral research.