Le projet de cycle de conférences « Mapping Networks of Modern Chinese Buddhism: Emerging Patterns and Centralities 圖繪近現代漢傳佛教網絡:多模式與多中心的興起 » a été lancé en 2022, suite au soutien financier accordé au CEIB par la Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation.

La subvention, versée pour une durée de trois ans et gérée par la Fondation Inalco, prévoit l’organisation d’activités liées aux études bouddhistes, d’une conférence annuelle s’intégrant dans la « Yin-cheng Distinguished Lecture Series on Buddhism », et d’au moins un colloque sur l’ensemble de la période. Elle permet au CEIB de s’insérer dans le Yin-cheng Network for Buddhist Studies, un regroupement d’universités à l’initiative de la Fondation Tzu Chi et de l’University of British Columbia (UBC), parrainé par la Fondation Tzu Chi. Le CEIB a alors choisi de consacrer une large partie de ce financement à l’organisation du cycle de conférences « Mapping Networks of Modern Chinese Buddhism« , dans le cadre duquel s’inscrivent des interventions de chercheur⋅e⋅s en 2023 et 2024, ainsi qu’un symposium international en 2025.

Direction scientifique et comité d’organisation : Amandine Péronnet (responsable), Antoine Cid, Ji Zhe

Résumé [anglais & chinois]


In the past two decades, there have been quite a few studies in the fields of humanities and social sciences focusing on the globalization of Buddhist networks, as well as efforts to provide an abstract representation of Buddhist historical networks within the emerging field of digital humanities. We wish to make our own contribution to research on Buddhist networks by drawing from a sociological definition, as well as from notions like “centrality”, to identify prominent and peripheral actors of the Chinese Buddhist world, to question interpersonal ties, and to identify “patterns” that could have lasting consequences for these actors. This structural approach to Chinese Buddhism will lead to contributions from speakers of international acclaim, looking into transnational and local networks, horizontal (peers) and vertical (lineages, hierarchy) relationships, based on historical and ethnographic data and expanding on Holmes Welch’s typology of Buddhist networks. With this set of original research, we want to question how these Chinese Buddhist networks have been built and evolved in the course of the 20th century up until the contemporary era, how some “central figures” emerged, and how affiliation to them benefited the actors in terms of cooperation, resources, power, position, and legitimacy. This project is therefore an attempt to gain a new understanding of the global expansion and localized influence of Chinese Buddhism.

過去二十年間,對漢傳佛教全球性網絡的研究在人文和社會科學領域日益增多,數位人文的興起也激發了對歷史上佛教網絡的抽象分析。本系列講座旨在推动并深化對該主題的研究。我們將從對“網絡”的社會學定義出發,探討“中心”這類分析性概念在宗教研究中的應用,以辨識在近現代佛教中分處支配或邊緣地位的行動者,梳理佛教內部的人際關係,概括能夠對行動者產生持續效果的各種“模式”,描繪佛教網絡的結構。我們將邀請在相關領域具有一定國際聲望的學者,分別從各自角度考察佛教的跨國與地方性網絡、佛教團體中的橫向(同儕)和縱向(法脈傳承及尊卑秩序)聯繫。這些學者的原创性研究以歷史素材和民族志資料為基礎,嘗試擴展尉遲(Holmes Welch)在1960年代提出的漢傳佛教網絡的類型學。由此,我們期待能夠整體把握二十世紀漢傳佛教網絡的建構與演化,考察某些“中心人物”出現的背景與機制,分析圍繞這些人物形成的網絡如何達成合作、動員資源,以及如何塑造權力、地位與合法性,從而對漢傳佛教的全球性擴張和地方性影響提出新的理解。

Argumentaire [anglais] :

The relationship between social actors, their interactions, and the influence they have on one another, have been extensively conceptualized and theorized in the course of the 20th century (see Freeman, 2004), particularly in the structural perspective of “social network analysis” (SNA). Leinhardt (1977) defined networks as “any kind of socially meaningful tie”, but the conception we feel resonate the most with what we are trying to bring forth in this lecture series in the following one: “The social network approach is grounded in the intuitive notion that the patterning of social ties in which actors are embedded has important consequences for those actors” (Freeman, 2004, 2). Working in the fields of humanities and social sciences, we can borrow from this perspective to look into the world of Chinese Buddhism, identify nodes (or actors) and edges (or relationships), observe patterns in order to better understand “the allocations of authority and resources among persons and locale” (Ashiwa and Wank, 2005, 222) within Buddhist networks, and more generally the ways these relationships and patterns benefit their actors.

The term “pattern”, as in the “patterning of social ties” quoted above, has inspired a number of scholarly works on religious networks to describe how the actors are tied together and interact with each other (Everton, 2015; Bingenheimer, 2018). Patterns can organize and structure according to specific modalities, they can also repeat themselves, and provide the analyst with a general image of the observed networks. In the research mentioned throughout this project description, we find references to patterns of social interaction, kinship, communication, mobility, influence, as well as evidence that they can create social capital, especially for groups (Everett & Borgatti, 2003). As they are a central component of network analysis, we will work from a variety of case studies to identify patterns and the rules to which they obey, and/or to identify individuals and groups that emerge from observing these patterns.

Centrality as well can be used as a conceptual tool to uncover and observe key actors of a specific network. Bingenheimer (2018, 2020) has shown that identifying, localizing and classifying centralities is essential to mapping historical Chinese Buddhist networks. His research, as well as others, draws extensively from data science and quantitative measures of centrality, which can also be very informative for a more qualitative approach to networks. For instance, Everett and Borgatti’s research on how to measure centrality (2003) explores three different ways to expand the concept. According to them, we could first look at sets of actors united by similar characteristics instead of looking at individuals, which in the case of Chinese Buddhism could mean focusing on groups formed through affiliation to temples or masters, institutional belonging, adhesion to the same beliefs, membership, in order to outline their gravitational pull, the scope of their interactions and their influence on other groups (Wang, 2013; Huang, 2017, 2018; Hammerstrom, 2020). Then, the authors suggest using two-mode data to display the relationship between actors and events with tables and graphs, which in our case would mean focusing on the places and times Chinese Buddhists meet, interact, and form social connections (Fisher, 2014; Bingenheimer, 2018). Finally, they approach centrality as a way to study dynamics within a specific group, in terms of core or periphery individuals (Bahir, 2013; Campo, 2019; Vidal, 2019). Therefore, this concept, when applied to Chinese Buddhism, raises questions about the type of centrality that can be observed in Buddhist networks, and makes us ask what individuals or groups are “central” and why.

In the case of Chinese Buddhism, we can first turn to Welch (1967) for a typology of Buddhist networks, based on fieldwork observations collected mainly in the first part of the 20th century in mainland China. According to him, Buddhist monks, nuns, and laypeople at the time became affiliated to formal/informal, personal/institutional, local/global networks primarily by ties of “kinship”, meaning they shared similar experiences within a religious “family” (tonsure, ordination, or dharma family). They could also form networks based on loyalty to the same charismatic figure, or form cliques whose members would come from the same region. Building on this typology, researchers have identified additional ways to affiliate to Buddhist networks in modern and contemporary China, including creating social connections between teachers and students within educational structures, or between Buddhist leaders and executives in official institutions like the Buddhist Association of China and its subdivisions (Lai, 2014; DeVido, 2015; Ashiwa & Wank, 2016; Gildow, 2016; Travagnin, 2017; Ji, 2019; Vidal, 2019; Hammerstrom, 2020). Other studies have uncovered even more modalities that account for the creation of Buddhist networks and communities in modern and contemporary era Chinese societies, such as shared morality/interests/educational experiences (Schak, 2009; Fisher, 2014, 2017), membership with an international organization (Yao, 2012; Wang, 2013), social engagement and activism (Jessup, 2010; Huang, 2017, 2018). Additionally, some have also been focusing on how these modalities adapted to the Buddhist digital world to form online networks (Huang, 2016; Tarocco; 2017; Travagnin, 2019; Xu & Campbell, 2020).

These affiliations are not fixed and modalities can be reorganized, which means that Chinese Buddhist networks as we know them are flexible. In any case, whether vertical (lineages, hierarchy) or horizontal (peers), whether local or transnational, they tend to influence the actors’ individual trajectories, the way they are “doing” Buddhism (Chau, 2011), and sometimes the orientation taken by temples and larger institutions.

With this lecture series, we are trying to draw from what was already theorized with regards to networks, combine it with findings that were made in the field of Buddhist studies, and apply this structural approach to our own research. SNA is based on statistics and quantitative data, and Bingenheimer’s work in digital humanities makes use of large datasets that provide us with abstract global representations of Chinese Buddhist networks and their central actors throughout history. His research, which mainly looks into communicative interactions between individual actors, is invaluable, especially since the influence of social networks in the organization of religious life seems to often be overlooked by network analysts (Everton, 2015). Yet, without necessarily relying on “graphic imagery” or on “the use of mathematical and/or computational models” (Freeman, 2004), we seek to complement these representations with qualitative fieldwork data, in order to shed some light on the kind of relationship these actors (individuals or groups) entertain, and on the influence they would have on one another. Therefore we aim, with each contribution to this lecture series, at developing a more concrete representation of Chinese Buddhist networks in modern and contemporary eras. We wish to answer a number of questions, such as: How do Buddhists affiliate to and take advantage of these social networks? Do they produce cooperation, solidarity, resources, positions of power, mobility, legitimacy? Who are their central actors and how are individual trajectories influenced by these networks? And more generally what does this structural approach tell us about the development, influence, and global expansion of Chinese Buddhism? Each distinguished speaker will contribute to drawing a typology of Chinese Buddhist networks from the end of the Imperial era up until our contemporary times with original and innovative research on local or transnational networks, individual actors or groups, vertical and horizontal interpersonal relationships, and so on.

We see several reasons for organizing a lecture series on the topic of Chinese Buddhist networks:

  1. We would like to bring together fourteen scholars from various disciplines, including history, literature, sociology, and anthropology, in order for them to share their knowledge of Chinese Buddhist networks, based on their own case studies and sets of data. In doing so, we wish to build on the global approach to religions that has been prevailing in recent research, as well as to find space on the international stage for Buddhism and Asian cultures when research on Western Christianity has been over-represented in the aforementioned disciplines. 
  2. By adopting a structural approach, that is studying the way groups are created, the manner in which multifaceted connections are produced, and the modalities according to which Buddhism differentiates itself in Chinese societies in Asia and worldwide, this synergy aims at giving a more comprehensive view of Chinese Buddhism in the modern and contemporary eras.
  3. SNA has been crucial in establishing ways to measure and represent networks, allowing analysts to observe phenomena in their globality and uncover new centers or patterns based on visualization. This Buddhist-oriented lecture series then seeks to build on and provide context for the existing quantitative data on networks, and would like to propose an alternative way of describing and analyzing the structure and evolution of the Buddhist landscape in modern and contemporary Chinese societies.
  4. Since Buddhism has been increasingly present in our globalized societies, drawing attention and arousing interest on the international stage, it seems that studying the inner workings of Chinese Buddhist networks and identifying their key actors would allow us to gain a better understanding of the influence of Chinese culture, as well as benefit our understanding of our contemporary world as a whole.

Événements passés

DateIntervenant⋅eTitre
9 mai 2023Marcus BingenheimerOn the Use of Formal Network Analysis for the Study of Chinese Buddhism
9 mai 2023Gareth FisherStudying the Buddha Abroad: Overseas Chinese Students and Buddhist Networks in the United States (Yin-cheng Distinguished Lecture)

Événements à venir

DateIntervenant⋅eTitre provisoire
31 mai 2024Jan KielyMapping the Extraordinary Ordinary Social Ecology of Local Huaihai Buddhism in the Twentieth-Century (Yin-cheng Distinguished Lecture)
31 mai 2024Richard Madsen
Symposium international, 19 & 20 juin 2025
Intervenant⋅e (participation confirmée)Titre provisoire
Yoshiko Ashiwa(Yin-cheng Distinguished Lecture)
David L. Wank(Yin-cheng Distinguished Lecture)
Daniela CampoThe Dajinshan’s network: the logics and dynamics of a Chan female temple network in Jiangxi province
Ester BianchiReinventing “Original” Buddhist Meditation: The Transnational Network of the Mahasati Dynamic Vipassanā Movement in Contemporary China
Huang Weishan 黄维珊The study of Buddhist cleric ties in contemporary Shanghai: sketching the lineage, migration, and
education networks among monastic clergy
Lai Rongdao 釋融道Transnational Lineage Networks in Modern Chinese Buddhism
etc.