Who owns Buddhism? Decolonising the study of religion, and beyond

Name of applicant

Jørn Borup


Aarhus University


DKK 835,288



Type of grant

Monograph Fellowships


The academic study of religion has largely been based on concepts and theories that originated in a Western and Protestant context with studies of non-Western religions framed by colonial settings. This has been acknowledged for long, but under the umbrella of decolonisation coupled with activist identity politics the study of religion has increasingly come under attack for being Eurocentric, or even racist. While acknowledging such decolonial reorientations, this monograph will critically investigate and discuss the 'critical study of religion' and contemporary decolonial and identity-based scholarship, focusing on one religion which has been studied in the West for centuries: Buddhism.


Analysing and discussing the decolonisation of the study of Buddhism represents a necessary contribution to the study of a specific transcultural religion. Furthermore, it also offers a case-based perspective with which to examine the general study of religion, where new challenges require reflection and prospects for new directions. The monograph will therefore provide new knowledge to benefit the academic study of Buddhism and religion, critically investigating decolonisation in the study of religion and addressing the important question: who owns Buddhism?


The project will integrate multiple methods. Firstly, it will undertake a focused reading of literature from European and American Buddhologists, Anthropologists and scholars of religion in order to situate the 'turns' in Buddhist studies in historical and contemporary contexts. Secondly, it will review reports, conference programmes and university manifestos as empirical cases illustrating contemporary positions. Thirdly, through a research stay in Japan it will integrate reflections from leading Japanese scholars of religion and Buddhism in order to de-contextualise the 'Western' discussion and add a global dimension to the topic.

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