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.
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Fifty years ago Soka Gakkai was an organization of a few hundred people, all of them in Japan. Today it is one of the world's most rapidly expanding religious movements with members in virtually every country in Europe, the Americas, and Australasia, in most of Asia, and in several parts of Africa. Increasingly well publicized, the movement sponsors a variety of cultural and educational causes, is conspicuous in its work for world peace and the preservation of the environment, and has established for itself a high profile in world affairs. Soka Gakkai is also a significant social phenomenon in its own right, yet it has received surprisingly little attention from Western academics, despite considerable public controversy surrounding its development in Japan. Bryan Wilson and Karel Dobbelaere have undertaken a thorough survey of the UK membership to try to trace the source of the movement's appeal to its socially diverse constituency. The results of their questionnaire survey were augmented by interviews in which members were encouraged to tell their own story in their own way. Their responses are liberally quoted throughout the book and add illuminating detail to its sociological analysis. The decline in belief in an anthropomorphic deity; the sense that traditional religious institutions have become hollow; the emphasis on the private nature of belief and on personal autonomy are all characteristic features of contemporary Western society. The authors suggest that Soka Gakkai has found a ready resonance with these changing currents of modern thought, and conclude that Soka Gakkai's appeal to young people in particular makes it a faith well in tune with the times.About the Author:
Bryan Wilson, Emeritus Reader in Sociology, Oxford University and Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford. Karel Dobbelaere, Professor of Sociology and Sociology of Religion, Catholic University of Leuven; Professor of Sociological Research, University of Antwerp.
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