A Time to Chant: The Soka Gakkai Buddhists in Britain

A Time to Chant: The Soka Gakkai Buddhists in Britain

A Time to Chant: The Soka Gakkai Buddhists in Britain

A Time to Chant: The Soka Gakkai Buddhists in Britain

Synopsis

Soka Gakkai--a movement of Japanese Buddhism--is one of the world's most rapidly expanding religious movements, especially in the West. The movement sponsors a variety of cultural and educational causes, and is active in promoting world peace and preservation of the environment; as such it has established a high profile in world affairs. Soka Gakkai is also a significant social phenomenon in its own right. This study documents this in its thorough survey of the United Kingdom membership that traces the sources of the movement's appeal to its socially diverse constituency. The combination of a questionnaire survey and personal interviews bring illuminating detail to this sociological analysis. The authors suggest that Soka Gakkai is consistent with modern thought that places a growing emphasis on the essentially private nature of belief and on personal autonomy, and less emphasis on traditional religious institutions. It is for these reasons that Soka Gakkai is a faith in tune with the times and has widening appeal to young people.

Excerpt

One of the most successful of new religious movements in Western countries, with respect to both rapid growth and the recruitment of a stable membership, is Sōka Gakkai International, yet, in Europe at least, it has commanded relatively little attention from scholars. The authors, both of whom have previously had some acquaintance with the movement in Japan, its country of origin, have observed its growth in Western Europe for some time, and when Dobbelaere spent some months as a Visiting Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, the opportunity presented itself for us to collaborate in a study of the SGI membership. The idea of such a study was put to the leader of the movement in Britain. He accepted the proposal readily, and, at our request, put at our disposal a membership list (as it stood in the late summer of 1990) from which we were able to draw a random sample of members to whom we distributed a postal questionnaire. Without the co-operation of SGI headquarters in Britain, our study would have taken a very different shape, and might not have been possible at all.

In a period when ancient families, large business concerns, and even city councils not infrequently commission scholars to undertake research into their history, we should make it clear that, although we received ready co-operation from the subjects of our study, our work was an entirely independent operation. It was not undertaken at the invitation of Sōka Gakkai, and was neither sponsored nor commissioned by that organization. The financial research support for our work was provided more or less equally by All Souls College, Oxford, and by the Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain, Belgium). That funding covered the cost of producing and distributing the 1,000 postal questionnaires; the expenditure on travel entailed in conducting interviews (in London, Bristol, and Gloucester, as well as in Oxford); and the cost of coding and computer analysis.

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