Buddhist, Spiritual, Esoteric and Ecological Movements in the 21st Century: A Dynamic Legacy
This 2-day workshop will explore the ways that Buddhist modernism and the spiritual movements of the fin de siècle (as exemplified by the Theosophical Society), both reacting to and enacting the dynamics of colonialism, continue to transform spiritual and ecological movements within and beyond the 21st century.
How are the legacies of Buddhist modernism and esoteric movements still active in modern environmentalist discourse? In what ways are the kinds of dualisms or oppositions active within the ideas of the fin de siècle, such as spiritualism/materialism and evolution/reversion, embedded within or resisted by contemporary environmental movements? How have Buddhism and spiritual movements been influenced by changing ecological conditions and understandings of the planet? By such phenomena as biodiversity loss, pollution, and the climate crisis? Could a critical return to esoteric source materials from the fin de siècle provide fresh understandings or insights into current ecological crises?
The workshop is open to public attendance, please register before 14 May 2023 for in-person attendance with the email@example.com (the conference will not be live-streamed).
|Mriganka Mukhopadhyay (University of Amsterdam)||The Esoteric Roots of Modern disciplines: Buddhist Studies, Tibetology, and Theosophy|
|Jessica A. Albrecht (University of Heidelberg)||
Dreaming, Transgressing, Educating: The Esoteric and Buddhist Ecologies of Florence Farr, Marie Musaeus Higgins about Donna Haraway’s Contemporary Feminism
|Samanta Viziale (University of Torino and University of Copenhagen)||The Call for a New Cosmology|
|Diana Lunkwitz (University of Hamburg)||Contested Bodiliness: Esoteric Vegetarianism, Christianity, Buddhism and Negotiating the Theosophist’s Body|
|Ayesha Adamo (Independent Scholar)||Bataille and Buddhism: When Lightning Strikes Twice|
|Lili Di Puppo (University of Rijeka)||Ecology and Sufism: Experiencing the landscape’s aliveness in a Bashkir Sufi circle in Russia’s Muslim Urals|
|Paride Stortini (The University of Tokyo)||Esoteric and Scientific India: The Buddhist Modernist Sources of Two Contemporary Dietary and Yoga Groups in Italy|
|Dendup Chophel (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)||The return to nature: Animist cultures, Buddhist modernist sensibilities and ecological practices in Bhutanese communities|
|Kikee Doma Bhutia (University of Tartu)||Transformation of the Indigenous belief and the Changing Meaning of Sacred Landscape|
|Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko (University of Copenhagen)||Visions of Heaven, Visions of Earth: Spiritual Universalisms in the Evolution of the Modern Environmental Movement|
|Stephen Christopher (University of Copenhagen) and Hoang Ngoc An (independent scholar)||‘Connect closely with unspoiled nature': Glamping at the Drikung Kagyu spiritual tourist resort in Da Lat, Vietnam|
|Tim Rudbøg (University of Copenhagen)||Negotiating the Life and Death of Nature in Modern Esoteric, Spiritual, and Buddhist Movements|
|Kocku von Stuckrad (University of Groningen)||Living Stones, Sentient Landscapes: New Animism and (De)Coloniality|
|10:45-11:15||Kocku von Stuckrad: Living Stones, Sentient Landscapes: New Animism and (De) Coloniality|
|11:15-11:45||Dendup Chophel: The return to nature: Animist cultures, Buddhist modernist sensibilities and ecological practices in Bhutanese
|11:45-12:15||Stephen Christopher and Hoang Ngoc An: ‘Connect closely with unspoiled nature': Glamping at the Drikung Kagyu spiritual tourist resort
in Da Lat, Vietnam
|13:00-13:30||Samanta Viziale: The Call for a New Cosmology|
|13:30:14:00||Tim Rudbøg: Negotiating the Life and Death of Nature in Modern Esoteric, Spiritual, and Buddhist Movements|
|14:30-15:00||Diana Lunkwitz: Contested Bodiliness: Esoteric Vegetarianism, Christianity, Buddhism and Negotiating the Theosophist’s Body|
|15:00-15:30||Jessica A. Albrecht: Dreaming, Transgressing, Educating: The Esoteric and
Buddhist Ecologies of Florence Farr, Marie Musaeus Higgins about Donna Haraway’s Contemporary Feminism
|15:45-16:15||Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko: Visions of Heaven, Visions of Earth: Spiritual
Universalisms in the Evolution of the Modern Environmental Movement
|18.30||Dinner at restaurant Magasasa, Istedgade 4 st. 1651 København V.|
|13:00-13:30||Ayesha Adamo: Bataille and Buddhism: When Lightning Strikes Twice|
|13:30:14:00||Mriganka Mukhopadhyay: The Esoteric Roots of Modern disciplines: Buddhist Studies, Tibetology, and Theosophy|
|14:30-15:00||Lili Di Puppo: Ecology and Sufism: Experiencing the landscape’s aliveness in a Bashkir Sufi circle in Russia’s Muslim Urals|
|15:00-15:30||Kikee Doma Bhutia: Transformation of the Indigenous belief and the Changing Meaning of Sacred Landscape|
|15:30-16:00||Paride Stortini: Esoteric and Scientific India: The Buddhist Modernist Sources of Two Contemporary Dietary and Yoga Groups in Italy|
Kocku von Stuckrad: Living Stones, Sentient Landscapes: New Animism and (De) Coloniality
Abstract: The concept of animism is deeply rooted in colonial structures. In colonial religious studies, animism was a "failed ontology" that could be found in religious practices outside of Europe, including Indigenous, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions, but also in segments of European societies that seem untouched by the project of rational, disenchanted European modernity, including some theosophical and occultist milieus. One hundred years later, animism seems to be an influential spiritual philosophy and practice in Europe, and scholars conceptually develop "new animism" as a relational ontology that connects the human being with the more-than-human world. What links the animistic understandings of the 21st century in Europe and North America with earlier discourses? How can we conceptualize animism in earth-based spiritual, ecological, artistic, and scientific movements today? Can new animism be described as an indication of what Walter D. Mignolo calls "Dewesternization" and "decoloniality"?
Bio: Kocku von Stuckrad is a professor of religious studies at the University of Groningen. He has published extensively on topics related to the cultural history of religion, science, and philosophy in Europe and North America. His most recent book is A Cultural History of the Soul: Europe and North America from 1870 to the Present (Columbia University Press, 2022).
Dendup Chophel: The return to nature: Animist cultures, Buddhist modernist sensibilities and ecological practices in Bhutanese communities
Abstract: Based on an ethnography of votive offering practices in Bhutanese communities, this paper argues that orthodox Buddhist activism, which has been theorised as ‘Buddhicisation’ (Buffetrille, 2019: 98), has been detrimental to nature-based religious practices in historically peripheral and semi-Buddhist communities. Changing livelihood and economic strategies in rural and urban Bhutanese communities under influence of orthodox Buddhism is leading to concurrent changes in the nature of votive and sacrificial offerings, as well as rituals and ritual officiants. Votive offerings traditionally administered by a multiplicity of old Bonpo officiants consisted of local forest and farm products specifically evoking the pre-existing solidarity between the human and non-human inhabitants of the localised more-than-human lifeworld. However, the entrenchment of Buddhist ritual culture in Bhutanese communities at a time of general increase in material prosperity has resulted in displacement of organic material culture in favour of exotic and packaged consumer products of Thai and Chinese provenance. Resulting consumerism and ritual extravagance has strained financial circumstances of the families and heightened pollution concerns, both symbolic and real. Faith leaders and ritual officiants are now compelled to urge community members to
revert to older offering materials and practices. This realigns emerging votive culture and consumption practices with traditional ideas of propriety and proportionality as well as with emerging Buddhist modernist sensibilities and aesthetics. Rituals are rationalised and streamlined, and votive offerings reinforce societal hierarchies and values whereby, among
other practices, offering materials are colour coded and their relative, predetermined positions reflect and reinforce societal positions.
Bio: Dendup Chophel has received a PhD in anthropology from the Australian National University, becoming one of the few Bhutanese to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology. He studied the processes and impact of Buddhist gentrification in displacing localised ritual practices in historically marginal communities in rural Bhutan. Currently, a Research Fellow at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany), he is studying elderly female mediums (rnal-'byor-ma, Yogini and/or bsnyen-jo-mo, ‘Invocation-Lady’) in Ketokha and Bongo villages of Bhutan, and their often asymmetrical relation with institutionalised Buddhism. On a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Institute of Developing Economies-JETRO in Japan, he has explored the fundamental ways in which Buddhism counterintuitively valorises and promotes economic productivity and
material prosperity in Bhutanese communities.
Stephen Christopher and An Hoang: ‘Connect closely with unspoiled nature': Glamping at the Drikung Kagyu spiritual tourist resort in Da Lat, Vietnam
Abstract: This article places the newly established Samten Hills Tibetan Buddhist resort in the context of ecological discourses about Da Lat. Once a French hill station, Da Lat in the Central Highlands is famous among Vietnamese as a romantic getaway, a place of singular natural beauty and spiritual possibilities. We consider how toponomies of nature in Da Lat—invoking feuding tribes, couple suicides and the world’s largest statue (of Avalokiteśvara) made entirely from flowers—facilitate spiritual tourism. The resident Drikung Kagyu monks are mostly from Ladakh, and we highlight the transposition of nature oriented Ladakhi Buddhist branding to the novel Vietnamese context. Based on fieldwork at the inauguration of Samten Hills, we explore how conceptions of nature (in spiritual branding and Buddhist teachings) are part of tourist packages that blur the distinction between economic and religious activity. The inauguration of Samten Hills, with its Guinness Record world’s largest Tibetan prayer wheel, pricy French villas (or glamping alternative), mountaintop kora and surrounding picturesque milk farms, is an exemplary case study of the Vajrayana boom in Southeast Asia.
Bio: Stephen Christopher is a Marie Curie postdoc at the University of Copenhagen. He is the co-Editor-in-Chief of the Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, the Editor-in-Chief of the new research blog at the Center for Applied Ecological Thinking, and an Asia editor at the Database of Religious History at the University of British Columbia. He completed a Ph.D. in anthropology from Syracuse University (2018) and a JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship at Kyoto University (2019). He will next be a Visiting Research Fellow at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto.
Bio: Hoang Ngoc An is the lead researcher at It’s T Time, a pioneering trans organization in Vietnam receiving funding from the COC Nederland and the International Trans Fund. She has co-published on queer politics (Routledge), LGBT ethnic minorities, trans medical interventions, parents’ acceptance of LGBT children, and ethnic minority child marriage. She has worked with many international research groups, including USAID; the European Commission; The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights (RFSL); the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Germany’s Bread for the World. She is currently co-authoring three articles on spirituality and sexuality in Vietnam.
Samanta Viziale: The Call for a New Cosmology
Abstract: The call for a new cosmology seems to be one of the most common factors among environmental activists. Etymologically, cosmology indicates a discourse about the world, how humans understand it, live in it and think about it. A new cosmology implies a new set of beliefs for approaching the world. Climate activists often call for new institutions, economic systems, relationships, values, arts, laws, etc. Ecological movements become seekers and propagators of a new cosmology connecting spirituality, politics and science. Firstly, this paper explores the main characteristics of this emerging cosmology, which is often embodied in public actions, such as demonstrations, and contemporary artworks of various kinds. Many young activists (such as Camille Étienne or Greta Thunberg) are calling for a change in the old paradigm that establishes the environment as a source of resources aimed at infinite growth, which is no longer possible. The alternatives look towards (1) a
living nature, (2) the elimination of the dichotomy between nature and culture and (3) a sort of universalism (with or without deity). These points recall some of the esoteric traditions’ features identified by Antoine Faivre. The second aim of this paper is to explore the connections between these features and emergent cosmology. Does the cosmology suggested by ecological movements and activists entail elements from esoteric traditions?
Bio: Samanta Viziale is a cultural anthropologist specialising in visual arts and a PhD candidate in Arts and Humanities at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Turin. She holds a BA in Painting and an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology. Her PhD research project explores the influence of Theosophical movements on visual arts at the beginning of the 20th century. She recently started a collaboration with the Center for Applied Ecological Thinking of Copenhagen for the purpose of organizing a workshop that explores the connection between artistic production, spiritualities and ecology.
13:30:14:00: Tim Rudbøg: Negotiating the Life and Death of Nature in Modern Esoteric, Spiritual, and Buddhist Movements
This paper argues that the formulation of Theosophical conceptions of nature, especially as they are found in H. P. Blavatsky's major work The Secrect Doctrine (1888) drew on a number of older esoteric traditions and more immediate ideas of romanticism and German idealism in an attempt to negotiate a spiritual, yet natural dimension of nature as a dialectic reaction to the emergence of the influential naturalism springing from the radical works and initiatives of John Tindale, Herbert Spencer, T. H. Huxley and Charles Darwin. A result of this reaction was a new noteworthy rationalized and scientistic oriented spirituality that offered a wide-embracing concept of nature that included a systematized understanding of its imagined living processes and forces. This paper furthermore argues that this newly formulated theosophical, expanded conception of nature both also drew Buddhism and at the same time facilitated the development of a part of the so called "modern" "scientistic" reshaping of Buddhism, which as will be shown has continued to be replicated and expressed in debates about nature, climate change, and ecological crisis.
Bio: Tim Rudbøg, PhD is Associate Professor and Director of the Copenhagen Centre for the Study of Theosophy and Esotericism (CCSTE) at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Rudbøg has published widely on an array of topics, but he has primarily specialized in the study of esotericism, Helena P. Blavatsky and The Theosophical Society. More recent publications include the co-edited volumes Imagining the East: The Early Theosophical Society (Oxford University Press, 2020) and Innovation in Esotericism from the Renaissance to the Present (Palgrave, 2021).
Diana Lunkwitz: Contested Bodiliness: Esoteric Vegetarianism, Christianity, Buddhism and Negotiating the Theosophist’s Body
Abstract: While for Charles Webster Leadbeater, Chicago’s slaughter-houses represented the “Christian hell for animals” (Leadbeater 1905:270–1), Helena Petrovna Blavatsky insisted on her allegorical reading of the death of Gautama Buddha due to a “meat indigestion” (Blavatsky 1888:369). Specifically about the question of “flesh-eating” (Keightley 1890) we can recognise the dichotomy on West/Christianity–East/Buddhism and also various voices within Theosophical Societies. Debates on vegetarianism were one of the earliest topics in the journal The Theosophist and “whether to eat meat or not to eat it” (William Quan Judge 1888:290) continues to be a significant lifestyle question in the New Age movement. Which reasons justified or did not justify eating meat as part of the imagined theosophical cosmology including a (dis)connectivity of bodies (atoms, mountains, man, animals, plants)? What role did concepts of Karma, reincarnation (Harlass 2021), Christianity (VanArsdel
2001), race(s), class, and gender (Ohri 2019; Viswanathan 2011) play? Indeed, non meateating was often mentioned along with living on “clean food”, staying away from alcohol and narcotics (Wachtmeister 1897:4), anti-vivisection as well as the effects of all of these things on the ostensible astral body. The paper addresses, first, the problem of selfoptimisation and decisive action against animal suffering according to theosophical worldviews. Second, it demonstrates why an esoteric reality of connectivity does not constitute a convincing solution for current ecological crises. A coexistence of diverse bodies of the human with the non-human species should be critically focused on.
Bio: Diana Lunkwitz is research associate in religious studies and global Christianity at the University of Hamburg. Her doctoral thesis is on theosophy at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago 1893. It was defended at the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg where she taught ecumenical and interreligious relationships as well as religion and ecology for three years. Her research interests also include postcolonial and decolonial theory, the study of esotericism, orientalism, new religious movements, and religions in Africa.
Jessica A. Albrecht: Dreaming, Transgressing, Educating: The Esoteric and Buddhist Ecologies of Florence Farr, Marie Musaeus Higgins about Donna Haraway’s Contemporary Feminism
Abstract: This paper will engage with one specific writing by each the British occultist and actress Florence Farr and by the German American educationalist, Theosophist and Buddhist Marie Musaeus Higgins. Inspired through their Theosophical circles, both went to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to become principals of girls’ schools, Higgins in 1891 and Farr in 1913. However, both were also active writers. In this presentation, I will engage with Farr’s The Solemnization of Jacklin (1912) and Higgins’ Leela’s Dreams (1925) to examine their conceptualizations of ecological living in relation to gender and spirituality. Farr’s writings have been influenced by her experiences within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society as well as her socialist feminist circles. In contrast, Higgins had been living in Ceylon for three decades by the time of publication, a time during which she engaged with Buddhist texts and practices, lead a Buddhist girls’ school and translated texts from Pali to Sinhala and English. However, there are striking similarities, especially when it comes to the notion of dreaming as the time and space of transgression and transformation. Therefore, I analyze both their writings through the lens of Donna Haraway’s ecological cyborg-feminism to highlight the links between esoteric and Buddhist ecologies to gender politics and naturalizations. I will argue that the notion of the dream, understood in Farr’s and Higgins’ esoteric and Buddhist terms, expands on the possibilities and visions given by Haraway.
Bio: Jessica Albrecht is a doctoral student and teaching fellow at the University of Heidelberg, Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology. Her PhD thesis focuses on the relationship between feminisms, religions and girls’ education in late colonial and contemporary Sri Lanka. Her research interests lie in gender and critical race studies in religious studies, focusing on the history of feminism, British colonialism and esotericism. Jessica also founded the interdisciplinary journal, network and podcast "En-Gender".
Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko: Visions of Heaven, Visions of Earth: Spiritual Universalisms in the Evolution of the Modern Environmental Movement
Abstract: Although national space agencies and commercial space companies frequently appeal to nationalism and secular ideas of progress to justify their activities, space exploration has always been inspired and undergirded by religious ideas and practices. The Russian founding father of astronautics, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was a Cosmist: a group of thinkers and philosophers who were heavily influenced by the New Religious ideas of the Buddhist-influenced Theosophical Society. His dream of liberating humanity from the boundaries of the planet was accompanied by fantastical and unsettling ideas about achieving human spiritual and material perfection. In 1968 when the Apollo 8 crew came back from their mission to the Moon, they brought with them the first clear colour photos of Earth taken from Moon’s orbit. The most influential of these, the ‘Earthrise’ image, taken as the Earth rose from behind the horizon of the Moon, radically transformed impressions of the world. This visual image of the Earth in outer space caused vast sections of the world’s population to reimagine the Earth as a planet, and gave birth to new kinds of global environmental movements. American Astronauts viewing the sunlit Earth from outer space have typically described the experience as demonstrating that the planet is unified, fragile, and discrete. This talk will discuss how these impressions of the ‘Earth from Above’ are influenced by the universalising tendencies found within many of the key esoteric movements at the fin desiècle and how this vision of the planet has shaped present day environmental movements.
Bio: Dr Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko is an anthropologist and the author of Enlightenment and the Gasping City. Her work is situated at intersections between environmental changes and cultural praxis, in multi-scalar and trans-species contexts. She has carried out extensive research on Buddhism and other religious traditions in Mongolia, Australia and India, particularly as they relate to uncertainty, pollution, and the more-than-human world. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow within the Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Her current research project ‘Impermanent – Imperishable: Plastics and Praxis among Buddhists in Oceania’ looks at how Buddhists in Oceania relate to radical permeability and toxicity amidst the changing ecosystems on the planet. She is the co-founder of Cenote a travelling multi-disciplinary
Ayesha Adamo: Bataille and Buddhism: When Lightning Strikes Twice
Abstract: With the advent of Buddhist Studies, European interest in Buddhism as an alternative to Christianity flourished in the nineteenth century, and well into the twentieth, so it’s no surprise that Buddhism caught the eye of a young Georges Bataille, who aimed to form a secret society that was both revolutionary and religious. In 1936, Acéphale was born at the foot of a lightning-struck tree, indeed a symbol of satori. Although his only exposure to Buddhism may have been through reading the work of Buddhist monk and Theosophist, D.T. Suzuki—as well as what he could glean from some bastardized ideas in Nietzsche—Bataille placed meditation at the center of the practices prescribed for Acéphale. While the group didn’t last long, the lightning strike of satori during this period enkindled Bataille’s new understanding of the profane and the sacred, which in turn informed his unique concept of expenditure and waste in The Accursed Share. Now, in the twenty-first century, as we ponder ways of handling consumer Capitalism and environmental concerns, Bataille’s concept of waste is more relevant than ever. This paper will examine the way that Buddhist ideas orbit Bataille’s concepts of materialism and the sacred, positing that perhaps we need to retrace our steps and return to the lightning-struck tree.
Bio: Ayesha Adamo is an academic, performing artist, and filmmaker from New York City who currently lives in Amsterdam, where she studies at University of Amsterdam’s Centre for the History of Hermetic Philosophy & Related Currents. She is a graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University, where she majored in music—and rumor has it she was once in an Asian pop band on EMI Records. Ayesha is Grand Praemonstrator and an ordained Hierophant in Temple of Thelema, and has several occult books in the works.
Mriganka Mukhopadhyay: The Esoteric Roots of Modern disciplines: Buddhist Studies, Tibetology, and Theosophy
Abstract: In this paper, I will explore how the Theosophical movement influenced the birth of modern disciplines and academic fields during the twentieth century at the global level. Looking at various Indian and European individuals associated with the Theosophical Society, I will examine how the Theosophical doctrines and organisational networks encouraged the origin and development of the academic study of Buddhism and Tibetan society and language. In this regard, I will specifically explore the life and works of Sarat Chandra Das, Beni Madhab Barua, Johan van Manen, and Giuseppe Tucci, among others. I
will discuss how the above-mentioned individuals, directly or indirectly involved with the Theosophical Society, were inspired by Theosophy in their study of Buddhism and Tibet. Here, the primary emphasis will be on the Theosophical movement’s reception and appropriation of South Asia and its religions through the networks of historical actors operating in colonial India. I will also discuss how esoteric organisations such as the Theosophical Society contributed to the knowledge-production system. In this talk, I will focus on the global history of the transcultural entanglements between South Asia and the Western world in the history of the Theosophical movement. The presentation will mainly draw from my doctoral research on the Theosophical movement in Bengal and its global intersections.
Bio: Mriganka Mukhopadhyay is a PhD candidate at the HHP Centre, University of Amsterdam. He is interested in the history of esotericism in modern South Asia and its global intersections. He is currently finalising his PhD dissertation titled The Occult World of Bengalis: Theosophy in Colonial South Asia and its Global Entanglements (1882-1942). Mukhopadhyay is the book review editor of Correspondences: Journal for the Study of Esotericism. He has taught courses at the Universities of Calcutta, Vienna, and Amsterdam and published articles in reputed peer-reviewed journals.
Lili Di Puppo: Ecology and Sufism: Experiencing the landscape’s aliveness in a Bashkir Sufi circle in Russia’s Muslim Urals
Abstract: This paper explores how disciples in a Bashkir Sufi circle in Russia’s Muslim Urals experience the Bashkir landscape’s aliveness and spirituality. I draw from Sufi ontologies and epistemologies, in particular the idea of wahdat-al-wujud or oneness of being in the work of the Islamic philosophers-mystics Ibn Arabi and Mulla Sadra, to approach ways in which my Sufi interlocutors cultivate a relationship with their surroundings and with nature. After decades of Soviet atheism, they revive the Bashkir sacred geography, a network of graves of saints, while approaching the experience of modernity and modern life as forgetfulness. As the human forgets the divine, s/he becomes disconnected from his or her surroundings, viewing nature as a resource and not as a “gift of God”. My analysis aims to thrown another light on the question of the separation of nature and culture and the human and nature as approached by scholars such as Philippe Descola who view Christianity as a major influence in this separation. This view also influences contemporary (Western) discourses about the environment. Indeed, from the perspective of Islamic monotheism, the landscape can be experienced as sentient and alive with the human connected with it to the extent that the divine creation and the human are both connected with God in remembrance. Hence, my Sufi interlocutors experience the landscape is as worshipping and remembering, reminding the human of the divine.
Bio: Lili Di Puppo is a postdoctoral researcher in the ERC project Revenant at the University of Rijeka. She was previously Assistant Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. She is convenor of the European Association of Social Anthropology’s network ‘Muslim Worlds’. Her research focuses on religion and identity, memory, experiences of divine presence in Muslim communities and environmental movements and spirituality in the Eurasian region. She has published her work in Ethnicities, Globalizations, East European Politics, Contemporary Islam, the Anthropological Journal of European Cultures and Global Crime. She is co-editor of the book Peripheral Methodologies: Unlearning, Not-Knowing and Ethnographic Limits (Routledge, 2021).
Kikee Doma Bhutia: Transformation of the Indigenous belief and the Changing Meaning of Sacred Landscape
Abstract: The tiny state of Sikkim, with its people leading their lives in extremely tough mountainous terrain, is the most vulnerable region to both natural and human-made disasters since it is situated in the very high zone regarding earthquakes and high area with regards to landslides, according to multi-hazard map of UNDP (Map). Apart from that, a rigid mesh of rampant and unplanned urbanization is coming up in the state; unsafe buildings compound the risks and unreliable roads. The four seasons arrive and depart in tandem with four significant kinds of natural disasters: windstorms accompanied by heavy rainfall, earthquakes, landslides, flash floods, and hailstorms. Other catastrophic events such as avalanches, blizzards, cold waves, and fires occur less frequently and threaten fewer people. In this light, the government bodies such as ‘The Land and Disaster management department, ENVIS Sikkim, Natural Disaster Mitigation and Management Department, etc., are continually supporting and creating awareness regarding how to protect and prepare during the disaster. But local communities utilize and take different protective measures against such situations. Such efforts include appeasing the spirits and calming the wrath of the deities villagers believe have been offended somehow. To do so, they construct roadside altars
establishing a new religious place of faith. Through case studies, this paper will bring out belief narratives about the changing sacred landscape caused due to both man-made and natural disasters. It aims to show how the local community finds new ways to negotiate beliefs and performs rituals transforming and making a new sacred landscape.
Bio: Born in Sikkim, a former Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom, now part of the Indian Union, Dr. Kikee Doma Bhutia completed her doctoral studies in 2021 at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, University of Tartu, Estonia. Her doctoral research focuses on belief narratives regarding yul lha gzhi bdag (Local protective deities) in Sikkim (India). It concentrates on Folk belief and belief narratives and is an exercise in the vernacular theorizing of the Buddhist (folk/vernacular) lifeworld in Sikkim. Currently, she works as a research fellow at the Tartu University Asia center, with research interests focused on the importance of symbols as materiality that facilitates discussion of the nation-state and collective and individual identity, the
geopolitics of the Himalayas, and the intersection of ecology and politics.
Paride Stortini: Esoteric and Scientific India: The Buddhist Modernist Sources of Two Contemporary Dietary and Yoga Groups in Italy
Abstract: This presentation will trace the roots of two recent movements centered on dietary and health practices in Italy back to a complex and cosmopolitan entanglement of early twentieth century esotericism and Buddhist modernism across Asia and Europe, showing the relevance of such networks not only for the development of ideas on religion, but also on health and nature. The two Italian cases center on the “macrobiotic” diet and on the modernist blending of yoga and Zen meditation practices. These two cases share not only an unusual location—the Marche region—at the periphery of Buddhist spread or migration in Italy, but they are connected to the Japanese reception of esoteric and modernist views on yoga and health since the early twentieth century, Georges Ohsawa built his macrobiotic diet by including elements of Japanese yin yang thought in early twentieth century medicine and research in cereals, strategically using religious and scientific discourse. His disciple Oki
Masahiro developed his own approach to yoga by combining elements of Japanese Zen mediation with practices learnt through contact with South Asian religious leaders. The presentation will specifically look at the role of a modernist reimagination of India in both esoteric and scientific terms in the formulations of Ohsawa and Oki and of their Italian contemporary legacy, and at the way this reimagination informs ideas on health and on the relation of the body with nature.
Bio: Paride Stortini is a JSPS postdoctoral research fellow at the Religious Studies department, the University of Tokyo. He received a PhD in History of Religions from the University of Chicago. His research explores ways in which Buddhism has provided ideas and images to reshape Japanese identity through transnational intellectual networks, migration, and the construction of cultural heritage. He has particularly worked on India and on the Silk Road in the Buddhist imaginary of late nineteenth and twentieth century Japanese religion. His articles have appeared in Journal of Religion in Japan, Religions, Japanese Religions, and Journal of World Buddhist Cultures.