Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West

Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition

By Judith Snodgrass

368 pp., 6 x 9, 14 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5458-7
    Published: August 2003
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6319-0
    Published: December 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7748-2
    Published: December 2003

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Japanese Buddhism was introduced to a wide Western audience when a delegation of Buddhist priests attended the World's Parliament of Religions, part of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In describing and analyzing this event, Judith Snodgrass challenges the predominant view of Orientalism as a one-way process by which Asian cultures are understood strictly through Western ideas. Restoring agency to the Buddhists themselves, she shows how they helped reformulate Buddhism as a modern world religion with specific appeal to the West while simultaneously reclaiming authority for the tradition within a rapidly changing Japan.

Snodgrass explains how the Buddhism presented in Chicago was shaped by the institutional, social, and political imperatives of the Meiji Buddhist revival movement in Japan and was further determined by the Parliament itself, which, despite its rhetoric of fostering universal brotherhood and international goodwill, was thoroughly permeated with confidence in the superiority of American Protestantism. Additionally, in the context of Japan's intensive diplomatic campaign to renegotiate its treaties with Western nations, the nature of Japanese religion was not simply a religious issue, Snodgrass argues, but an integral part of Japan's bid for acceptance by the international community.

About the Author

Judith Snodgrass is senior lecturer in Japanese history at the University of Western Sydney in Australia. She also edits the journal Japanese Studies.
For more information about Judith Snodgrass, visit the Author Page.


"A cogent presentention. . . . An important contribution to the history of the history of religions and should be of interest to a broad readership."--History of Religions

"Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West . . . provides an intriguing back story not only for the World's Parliament of Religions but also for contemporary Buddhism."--Tricycle

"Snodgrass's story is fascinating on several levels: as a detailed analysis of the Exposition and the Parliament of Religions; as a dissection of the veins and arteries of Japanese thought at the time; and as a point of reference for what's happening inside religions today. . . . Essential reading."--Australian Book Review

"The author's erudition consistently impresses."--Historian

"A fascinating account of this chapter of religious history."--Journal of the Buddhist Society of London

"Bring[s] together an enormous amount of information into a comprehensive whole."--Journal of Religion