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Subproject A9

Ritual Sitting and Rituals of Intercession. Structure and Transformation of Zen Buddhist Rituals in Japan and Germany

Department and Research Field: Religious Studies

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. Inken Prohl

Institute of Religious Studies
Akademiestr. 4-8
69117 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 – (0) 6221 - 54 76 22
Fax: +49 – (0) 6221 - 54 76 24


Tim Graf M.A.

Project Program

Subproject A9 investigates the structure and transformation of Sōtō-Zen- Buddhist ritual sequences in Japan and Germany from the perspective of religious studies and ritual theory. Its focus lies on the sequences of ritual sitting (zazen) and rituals of intercession (kitō). In the Japanese context, these two sequences form a unit, while the Western practice is dominated by the sitting sequence. According to our initial observations, many Japanese practitioners’ believe that zazen turns the monasteries into places of fortitude, where the monks mediate between the Buddha-Dharma that is considered to be religiously potent, the power of local gods and the concerns and salutary wishes of the temple’s adherents and visitors. Superficially seen, the way zazen is practiced in the Western world is hardly distinguishable from the Japanese model. However, the religious and cultural environment in which the Western zazen is practiced has deviated significantly from the original context. The Western zazen is attributed to have undergone a fundamental modification of the semantic, pragmatic and functional dimensions of this ritual during its transition from the Japanese context to the Western societies – even though we cannot discern any changes in the performance.

Subproject A9 investigates one case each in Japan and Germany as well as the discourse on the respective ritual sequences while including actor-specific and socio-historical developments. Its goal is to gather insights and contribute to 1. ritual theory, 2. the recent Japanese history of religion, and 3. the transformation of Buddhism. Its approach includes a combination of historico-philological and empirical-qualitative methods. Furthermore, we will include digital ethnography. In view of the SFB 619’s new objectives, subproject A9 will particularly focus on the theoretical premises and research goals regarding the “grammar of rituals” and reflexivity.

Main Topics