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Max Weber’s Work and the Study of Buddhism today


Richard Gombrich

Weber’s work on early Buddhism relied on such poor information that it is almost worthless. But the concepts he used for his analysis of religion in its social aspects were so well devised that many of them are still valuable for guiding our research and understanding. And the very fact that most of them came initially from his analysis of Christianity creates a basis for comparative study, as we examine where they fit other religions and where they do not. I hope to illustrate this point by introducing some recent research by Dr. Yu-Shuang Yao and myself into contemporary Buddhism in Taiwan. After contrasting the social structure of Buddhism as a whole with that of Christianity, I introduce the new Buddhist movement Fo Guang Shan, created in Taiwan in the 1960s, and show that if one uses the typology of religious movements initiated by Weber and elaborated by his followers, it fits the definition of a denomination (not a sect); I then discuss how and why it is modelled not so much on Protestantism as on Roman Catholicism.

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20 Yao, Yu-Shuang. 2014. ‘Japanese Influence on Buddhism in Taiwan’. Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 6: 141-56.


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