28 March 2022

The CCBS to welcome a new Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Fellow

Paulina Kolata

Paulina Kolata has recently been awarded a prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Individual Fellowship as part of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Framework Programme and will join the CCBS team in June 2023.

Paulina Kolata
Paulina Kolata

Paulina is an interdisciplinary scholar with interest in Japanese religions, rurality, depopulation, value economies, affect, gender, and materiality. Her work explores ethnographically the socio-economic and demographic complexities of religion in contemporary Japan, focusing on Buddhism, depopulation, and people’s everyday lived experiences and their relations to particular pasts and imagined futures. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for East and South-East Asia Studies at Lund University in Sweden, completing her first monograph that investigates the post-growth survival of Buddhist temple communities in regional Japan. The book builds on her doctoral work she completed at the University of Manchester in 2019, supervised by Professor Erica Baffelli in Japanese Studies and Dr Chika Watanabe in Social Anthropology.

During her 2-year fellowship at the CCBS, Paulina will work on the project REFUSE: Disrupting Buddhist circular economies – excess and abandonment in contemporary Japan.

Anti-materialism is the most pervasive popular assumption about Buddhism that obscures Buddhism’s material presence and its environmental impacts. Problematising such moulds, this ethnographic project will demonstrate how Buddhist materiality drives Buddhist circular economies, rooted in practices of merit-making and inherited ritual labour. By tracing Buddhist objects’ biographies and illuminating the circular nature of Buddhist material exchanges, I will investigate how things given to local temples generate excess and abandonment practices in contemporary post-growth Japan. Through histories of these objects and their relations, I will uncover how demographic hyper-ageing, regional depopulation, and changing consumption patterns inform and disrupt Buddhist material exchanges: how family altars and other personal ritual items, as well as meritorious food, land and object donations get caught up in discard, disposal, and reuse cycles and what emotional, ethical, practical, and spiritual implications ensue. As such, I will illuminate how Buddhist practices for processing accumulation and abandonment of Buddhist gifts are key to understanding contemporary Buddhism, and the wider issues of consumption, recycling, and aspirational non-waste economies they inhabit. I will therefore consider Buddhist giving as forces that generate and handle excess and abandonment that challenge the viability of the circular economy ideal by producing waste. Global concern about waste continues to rise: this research interrogates the waste-making impacts of religious activity and assesses the spiritual and practical implications of managing religious excess in the world’s fastest ageing society. It complements, and is complemented by, the research at the CCBS interrogating Buddhist economic entanglements and waste that is created by Buddhist economic exchanges.