Department of Religion Lecture

September 27, 2013
1:00 pm, Sakamaki Hall A302


“Experimental Buddhism in Contemporary Japan”
Professor John Nelson, University of San Francisco
What’s a good Buddhist priest to do when faced with the profound challenges of late modernity and persistently unfavorable opinions about religion in his own society? Declining temple membership, increasing secularism, and negative public opinion that sees Buddhism as having little relevance all add up to a “perfect storm” threatening the future of mainstream Japanese Buddhism.  Based on a forthcoming book (fall 2013), this presentation will advance the concept of “experimental Buddhism” while profiling some progressive Buddhist priests trying to reboot their roles as religious specialists and the services they provide through their temples.


John Nelson is Professor in East Asian religions in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco.  His areas of specialization are East Asian religions, contemporary Buddhism, cultural anthropology, globalization, secularism, and Asian Studies. Professor Nelson is the author of two books on Japanese Shinto, numerous articles, and a video documentary on Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. He will publish a new book in fall 2013 that deals with the “state and fate” of contemporary Buddhist temples in Japan.

Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in 21st Century Japan follows a 21-chapter edited volume he co-produced in 2012, titled the Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions (Brill).  Professor Nelson received his Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley in cultural anthropology (1993) and came to USF in 2000.