Beyond the City Limits: Rethinking New Religiosities in Asia

Here is a call for applications for an upcoming summer school that we are running in Göttingen later this year. It could be potentially interesting to PhD or research-based Masters students working on urban/rural Buddhism in Asia.

Summer School Göttingen SPIRIT 2016

Beyond the City Limits: Rethinking New Religiosities in Asia

18-22 July, 2016
University of Göttingen, Germany

A cooperation between the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology (GISCA), the Center for Modern Indian Studies (CEMIS) & the Center for Modern East Asian Studies (CeMEAS) at Georg-August University Göttingen, Germany


With the rapid urbanization across Asia, with new cityscapes, glittering skyscrapers, shopping malls, globalized forms of consumption it is easy to assume that cities are the primary sites for the production of the new. Indeed, urbanity is often used as a synonym for modernity and Asian futures would appear to be increasingly urban. The study of religion is no exception, and emergent trends, practices and movements are often implicitly or explicitly connected with the city. For example, new religious movements are commonly treated as distinctly urban phenomena that reflect middle class sensibilities and subjectivities, concerns and consumption patterns. Moreover, the rise of new religious forms is often understood as coming at the expense of the rural, as when village mediumship practices are seen to give way to urban spirit cults, or when so-called “forest monasteries” in Thailand increasingly find themselves in urban or peri-urban zones.

But if cities are the future, is the country then the past? Does the focus on cities as sites of “the new” ignore the complex ways rural contexts, settings and imaginaries are implicated and contribute to contemporary religious practice? And to what extent does the notion of “urban religion” implicitly depend on its “others”? Does it reproduce the urban/rural distinction as one of the “great divides” (Latour 1993) that have been central to the experience of modernity?

In truth, it is increasingly difficult to sustain sharp distinctions between rural and urban. Across Asia, increased mobility especially patterns of rural/urban migration and the spread of communications and transport technologies connect urban and rural settings like never before improved education rates have seen the rise of an increasingly sophisticated, cosmopolitan and politically engaged rural population. Yet nationalist constructions of identity and modernizing discourses across Asia have at once denigrated the rural, “the peasantry”, as backwards and in need of “development” while at the same time valorizing them as embodying traditional values and the essence of national identities. Religion is similarly implicated in such discourses, at times standing for the “other” of modernity, at others functioning as the locus of ethnic or national identities.

Yet so-called urban and rural religious practices do not constitute two opposed spheres of activity but are interconnected in various ways. Indeed, it is frequently the very notion of an opposition between city and country that facilitates interactions and networks that traverse urban and rural contexts. For example, urban religious institutions may recruit ritual specialists from the countryside because they are seen to have retained “correct” knowledge and techniques that urban practitioners have lost (Davis 2016), or city dwellers may see rural settings as sites of spiritual potential and seek out sites of pilgrimage, of refuge or retreat.

This Summer School takes up these issues and asks how the study of contemporary religious life in Asia can benefit from “thinking beyond the city”, whether “the city” is understood as a spatial entity, a site of enquiry, or as an analytical category. It will call into question many of the assumptions that go along with the study of urban religiosity and will attempt to bring “the urban” explicitly into relationship with its various “others” — such as the “rural”, “hinterland”, “periphery”, or “village”. Central questions include: How do patterns of pilgrimage, travel and tourism, or the circulation of religious symbols or objects connect “urban” and “rural”? How do religious networks and practices help particular actors — such as rural/urban migrants — to negotiate tensions between their rural and urban lives? How do notions of nostalgia and pastness figure in projects of urban religio-spiritual renewal? How do dialectics of religion, secularity and rationality play out in rural/urban spaces? And to what extent does the notion of an urban/rural divide itself inform religious practices and imaginaries?

A final avenue of questioning focuses on the hierarchization of city and country and the relative superiority and agency attributed to the former. Just as postcolonial and critical theory have challenged discourses that contrast a dynamic and active occident with a relatively static, passive orient, the Summer School will critically examine the manner in which similar distinctions between city and country have inflected the study of religion in Asia. It will ask how “provincializing” the city can lead to new insights and approaches that can reveal blindspots and draw attention to power differentials in Asian societies. The purpose would be to challenge the processes of othering that assign a relatively passive or reactive role for the countryside and to instead draw attention to the agency of rural actors, to alternative imaginaries of the future, and to ask what role religion plays in specifically rural modernities.

The summer school thus invites participants to engage with, and develop, their own work through an exploration of the way religion and spirituality intersect with three key themes: (1) traversing and transcending the rural/urban divide; (2) the city and its ‘others’; (3) provincializing the city.

A range of international speakers has been invited whose collective expertise connects questions of rural/urban religiosities and critical engagements with the category of “the city” in contemporary Asia. An innovative approach of this Summer School is to include both scholars who work on religion and those do not but whose research aims to critically engage with the category of “the city”. This combination of perspectives is expected to produce stimulating exchange and novel insights.

Speakers will include:

  • Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University
  • Ursula Rao, Leipzig University
  • Christina Schwenkel, UC Riverside
  • Tim Winter, Deakin University
  • Julia Huang, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan (tentative)
  • Radhika Gupta, Göttingen University

Prof. Herzfeld will provide a public keynote as well as a general workshop on successful thesis writing. Podium discussions and morning lectures will provide theoretical frames and ethnographic snapshots from diverse Asian contexts. In addition, students will participate in small working and reading groups moderated and mentored by each of the invited speakers over the course of the School. Mandatory readings for these sessions will be shared in advance. Participants will have the opportunity to introduce their own work in working groups, to connect their research to each of the three theme blocs, in order to develop new ideas and learn new approaches for their own work.

Highlights of the cultural program include:

  • A visit to the historic Bodenwerder synagogue from 1825, which was translocated to Göttingen in 2006 to find out about the transformation of religious sites in a local context.
  • A city tour, including guided tours of historically significant cemeteries.

About the organizers

GISCA, CEMIS and CeMEAS are key institutions building research, network and outreach capacities in the study of religions at Göttingen Research campus (GRC). Bringing together scholars in the social sciences and humanities for inter-disciplinary dialogue, they in particular foster an appreciation of regional diversity and intra- and cross-regional entanglements in Asia. With GISCA’s expertise in the anthropology of Southeast Asia and CEMIS and CeMEAS core competence in South and East Asia respectively, these centers complement each other, join creative forces and pool their excellent academic networks to organize this Summer School.


We invite applications from interested doctoral and research-based masters’ students of all cultural-studies disciplines, whose work relates to East, South and/or Southeast Asia. We offer expertise especially in social and cultural anthropology, history, sociology, media and visual studies, religious studies, and area studies. The number of participants is limited to 20.

Applicants should submit an abstract of their thesis or dissertation (max. 500 words), a statement of motivation (max 1 page), a brief statement by the applicant’s supervisor, as well as proof of current university enrollment. Scholars of GISCA, CEMIS and CeMEAS will select the participants. Free accommodation will be provided and there are no tuition fees. Travel stipends may be available to fund participants otherwise unable to attend due to the financial burden of travel costs. Please e-mail your application to Karin Klenke at Application deadline: February 29, 2016. Successful applicants will be informed by mid-March.

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Crowdfunding “The Dharma Bum”

Ian Lawton is an Irish film maker who is currently raising money to create a feature length documentary on the life of U Dhammaloka. Sounds like a great project that deals with a significant, but relatively obscure, figure in the uptake of Buddhism in the West.

From the crowdfunding page:

THE DHARMA BUM: The Untold Story of U Dhammaloka – The First Western Buddhist Monk

The Dharma Bum is a feature documentary film directed by Ian Lawton that unearths the adventure story of Laurence Carroll, a free-thinking atheist alcoholic Irishman born in Dublin in the late 1800s, who went on to become U Dhammaloka – the world’s first Western Buddhist monk.

Legend has it that in the dawn of the 20th century, Laurence ordained as a Buddhist monk in a remote forest monastery in Burma, aka Myanmar, where he trained in ancient Buddhist practices, while maintaining an activism that denounced dogma, orthodoxy, the hypocrisies of the Church and his own Catholic upbringing.

Standing up to the British Colonialists who were spreading over Southeast Asia at the time, Dhammaloka was under constant police surveillance until his conviction for sedition. After traveling the world under multiple aliases, faking his own death, being an outspoken activist, spending 13 years as a monk, Dhammaloka mysteriously disappeared, without a trace.

Over the following century knowledge of his life was lost from history. Only recently has his groundbreaking story been unearthed.

When The Dharma Bum is released, it will provide audiences worldwide with the missing link in the origin story of Western Buddhism.

Also interesting is the fact that Ian is making use of a new Buddhist-inspired crowdfunding site called (or is it That’s the URL at least), which has the goal of “developing a ‘dana-inspired community’ around our ongoing activism, creative process, and love of global human rights”. would appear to be an innovative adaptation of Buddhist notions of charitable giving to a Web 2.0 format. The site seems to be run according to a model of unconditional giving (dana), eschewing any expectation of reciprocity, usually a feature of crowdsourcing sites.

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Upcoming conference: Buddhism in the Global Eye

“Buddhism in the Global Eye: Beyond East and West”

The 6th Annual Tung Lin Kok Yuen Canada Foundation Conference, hosted by the University of British Columbia’s Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society (Jessica L. Main, director) and co-sponsored by The Modernization of Buddhism in Global Perspective Project (SSHRC Insight Grant, John S. Harding, Victor Sōgen Hori, Alexander Soucy, co-investigators).

Abstract submission deadline: January 1, 2016
Conference dates: August 10-12, 2016

This conference has been called to re-examine the widely held assumption that modern Buddhism is Buddhism with Western characteristics and to attempt to map out a better paradigm for explaining the modernization of Buddhism. It takes seriously the concept of globalization: Buddhist transformation in Asia and in the West are not seen as distinct but as related, taking place in communication across multiple nodes that cross East-West lines.

Keynote Address: The keynote address this year will be given by Professor Richard Jaffe of Duke University. A specialist of Japanese Buddhism and modernity, Richard Jaffe is currently working on a study of travel and encounters between Japanese and other Buddhists during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as overseeing the publication of five volumes of the writings of D. T. Suzuki. His faculty profile may be viewed here.


The “Westernization” paradigm: Much writing on the modernization of Buddhism assumes that the process started when Buddhism came from Asia to the West and adapted to Western culture. In this paradigm, the modernization of Buddhism basically consists in Westernization; acquisition by Buddhism of features of Western culture, such as egalitarianism, gender neutrality, individualism and so on. This paradigm has several faults.

  • Modernization begins in Asia. The Westernization paradigm ignores the historical fact that Buddhist modernization movements first arose in Asia. By the end of the 1800s, Ceylon had “Protestant Buddhism” and Japanese thinkers were actively trying to create shin bukkyō or New Buddhism. In the 1920s, the Chinese monk Taixu started to define renjian fojiao, humanistic Buddhism. Today the best organized transnational Buddhist institutions are based in Asia.
  • Asian agency. The paradigm assumes that traditional Asian Buddhism lay inert until the coming of the West jolted it into reform, that in the modernization process Asian Buddhism lies passive as Western influences reshape it. However in Thailand, even before the approach of Western powers, King Mongkut in 1851 started the reform of Buddhism. And in modernization movements in other Asian countries, the Asian side was never a mere passive foil; it was an active agent mobilizing all available cultural resources to reform its local form of Buddhism.
  • Multiple nodes. The modernization of Buddhism is not a one-way imposition of ideas from West to East. Monks travelled between Asian countries creating networks mutually stimulating each other’s modernization movements. Japanese monk Shaku Sōen witnessed the modernization in Ceylon before returning to Japan. Thich Nhat Hanh developed Taixu’s renjian fojiao into “socially engaged Buddhism.” The creation of these complex networks linking multiple nodes transmitting information, influence, and funds, is the dynamic of globalization.
  • Authenticity. Some authors have bluntly claimed that Westernized Buddhism is much closer to the Buddha’s original teaching than traditional Asian Buddhism. Here Western Buddhism masks a self-congratulatory ethnocentrism. At issue here is authenticity and claims of authority which need to be explored more critically than has been done so far.
  • Global forms. The forms of modern Buddhist activity in Asia are not mere imitations of Western “possessions.” Viewed from a global perspective, these forms are clearly seen as organizational, behavioral, and cognitive institutions taken up by religious and secular groups within a global exchange of forms. Buddhist engagement with, and development of, political ideologies, human rights, charitable and social work, chaplaincy, healthcare, youth culture, and education, are just that: Buddhist engagements. Further work is necessary to unearth the complex and embedded local situations of these authentically Buddhist engagements.
  • The emergence of secularity and a modern concept of religion. Up to 1800s, religions were classed under four categories: Christianity, Mosaism, Mohammadanism, and heathen paganism. As they learned about other religions, people abandoned this Christianity-centred system and triggered a modernization of the concept of religion itself. The idea of secularity, the granting of respect for other religions and the concept of a “world religion” were born.

This conference will seek to understand the modernization of Buddhism under a truly global paradigm. To understand and explain any phenomenon associated with modern Buddhism, we need to factor in the global networks and transnational flows that have been at work since the nineteenth century. Some topics, questions and issues that could be discussed at this workshop include:

  • Ethnographic case studies and historical studies of the modernization of temples, monasteries, religious communities, business organizations, and other groups in Asia.
  • Theoretical explorations of ways to describe the modernization of Buddhism that move beyond the Westernization paradigm.
  • Critical approaches to religion. How have societies in Asia contributed to a modern conception of “religion,” or to a modern conception of “world religion”?
  • How has the globalization of the concept of “religion” affected the way that Buddhism has been, and is being, reconstructed?
  • How have modernization projects taken different forms in different places, recognizing processes of localization, or “glocalization.”
  • Critical approaches to authenticity. The question of authenticity arises wherever Buddhism modernizes. Who claims authenticity? What is the criterion of authenticity and what are the consequences of these claims?
  • What synergies operate across the East-West divide in Buddhism? What synergies fail to operate across the East-West divide?

Scholars interested in presenting should submit a paper proposal (200 words), a short biography (100 words), and a single-page CV to Graduate students selected to present will receive up to 3 nights of free accommodation at UBC, plus a modest honorarium depending on distance traveled.Deadline: January 1, 2016.

Direct inquiries to:

Jessica L. Main, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia

Posted in Announcements, Calls for Papers, Conferences | 1 Comment

Upcoming Conference: Buddhism & Australia

5th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
18-20 February, 2016
Perth, Western Australia

The IC Buddhism & Australia is pleased to invite abstracts for panel sessions and individual papers for the 5th International Conference Buddhism & Australia

This conference is a platform for scientists and Buddhists to present their recent and latest researches on Buddhism; to complete each other’s views and consider future directions of Buddhism in changing times.

The main themes this year are

  • Buddhist Cosmology
  • Transforming Buddhism
  • Online Buddhist studies

The organizers are also open to proposals for contributions on Buddhist history, philosophy, texts as well for proposals on any related theme.

Important Dates

Proposals should be submitted by October 20, 2015 to the following email: (
A full draft paper should be submitted by January 20, 2015

All Buddhists, scholars and members of the general public interested in Buddhism are invited to present their papers in this coming conference. Researchers across a broad range of disciplines are welcomed as well the submission of pre-formed panel proposals.

We acknowledge receipt and answer to all proposals submitted. Please use another email ( if you have not received submission confirmation from us.
For more information please visit:

10 Years of Estonian Nyingma` Buddhism Conferences

The International Conference Buddhism & Australia 2016 is the 10th annual academic Buddhism conference, organized by Vello Vaartnou and Estonian Nyingma, and is an important milestone in progressing towards Buddhist studies.

Estonian Nyingma`s conferences have brought together scientists and Buddhists since 2007, when the first international Buddhism and Nordland conference was held in Europe; the same tradition continues in Perth, Western Australia, with the international conferences Buddhism & Australia .
Ms. Marju Broder, Organizing Chair
Mob: +61 0405549923

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JGB Special Focus: The Family in Modern Buddhism

I’m very happy to announce the publication of the Journal of Global Buddhism’s second “Special Focus” issue for 2015, this time on the subject of “The Family in Modern Buddhism“. The issue has been edited by our book review editor, Franz Metcalf, and Vanessa Sasson and comprises five original research articles.

Introduction: Tensions between Families and Religious Institutions

The Fantastic Stories of Könchok Paldrön and her Enlightened Children

The Family and Legacy of the Early Northern Treasure Tradition

Family Temples and Religious Learning in Contemporary Japanese Buddhism

The Childhood of Dorjé Sangwatsel (b. 1814) and the Theme of the Deficient Parent in Tibetan Hagiography

Soka Gakkai Families in the UK: Observations from a Fieldwork Study

Further details, including the full text of all articles (fully open access, as always) can be found on the JGB website.

Congratulations to Franz and Vanessa, and to all the authors for a fantastic special issue!

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PhD scholarship – Buddhism, Business and Believers

Here is the announcement of a very interesting-sounding PhD scholarship in Copenhagen:


PhD scholarship – Buddhism, Business and Believers

The Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, invites applications for a 3-year PhD scholarship on value creation and the secularization of Buddhist practices in the corporate world.
The project is expected to begin on February 1, 2016 or as soon as possible thereafter.
The PhD position is opened in the framework of the research project Buddhism, Business and Believers, which is funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities. The principal investigator of the project is Associate Professor Trine Brox.

Description of the project

Corporate Buddhism – Secularized Buddhist practices and value creation in the corporate world
The global spread of mindfulness, a contemporary and more palatable offshoot of Buddhism, not only among a general public but also among corporations, attests to the conceived benefits that Buddhism mediates within various spheres – both public and private. Holistic approaches such as ‘company karma’ (Hildebrandt & Stadil 2007) are being advocated in the work place directed at both consumers and employees, while also mediating the idea that Buddhist-related services benefit business through a more ethical and profitable way.
Acknowledging that the question of value has transgressed previous boundaries by integrating consumption with the personal self within both work and private life (Lazzarato 2004; Thrift 2007; Reisinger 2013), the study will ask into how corporations utilize spiritual methods and images in their multi-stakeholder management: How are businesses integrating aspects of Buddhism into their corporate practices? And in doing so, in which ways does Buddhism mediate value within corporate practices which aim to optimize the value and effectiveness of goods and services?

We are looking for a candidate who is able to design and undertake a research project which addresses the above research statement. The candidate should submit a detailed project proposal in which she/he includes:

(1) project description
(2) the intended theoretical framework and analytical concepts,
(3) the questions asked and the methods applied in order to answer these questions, (4) the site/sites for the study,
(5) the selection and access to data,
(6) ethical considerations,
(7) work plan for the project, including milestones for the three-year period,
(8) expected results and plan for dissemination of results,
(9) the candidate’s qualifications for undertaking the study.

Maximum length of the project proposal is 12,000 characters (excluding bibliography). Guidelines on how to write a PhD project proposal intended for the University of Copenhagen can be found here:

Buddhism, Business and Believers

The PhD project will be part of the international collaborative research project Buddhism, Business and Believers, which is funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities over four years, from February 2016 to February 2020. The objective of this collaborative research project is to inquire into contemporary relations between business and Buddhism through bridging language-based area studies, religious studies, anthropology and economics. With a particular focus on value creation, the aim is to gain novel insights into the manner that Buddhism becomes an agent mediating distinctions between virtue and value, spirituality and materiality, gifts and commodities – and therefore also subscribes meaning to objects, actions and human relations.

The PhD scholar will furthermore be part of a research team working from the interdisciplinary research environment at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen. As part of a team of researchers coming from language-based area studies, religious studies, and anthropology, the candidate must be willing and able to participate in regular research- and outreach activities where we engage in cross-disciplinary discussion concerning themes of shared concern. The candidate should be aware that there is a mandatory three-year plan for the PhD which also includes 30 ECTS of PhD Programme courses and one semester of teaching obligations.

Questions regarding application procedures or rules can be directed to the PhD school:
Questions regarding Buddhism, Business and Believers and the PhD research project within this overall collaborative research project can be directed to the project manager Associate Professor Trine Brox .

Application deadline: Tuesday November 24, 2015 at 23.59 (CET).

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Newly renovated Paris Buddhist pagoda

Here is an article in The Guardian about the recent renovation of a little-known but impressive Buddhist pagoda in Paris, apparently home to Europe’s largest Buddhist image. Particularly interesting for me is the way different aspects of French colonial history, migration patterns, contemporary global Buddhism, and even the art scene, have come together to create this Buddhist space.

The Buddha image was constructed in the studio of Spanish artist Joan Miró, while the pagoda itself was built in 1931 as a replica Cameroonian house for a colonial exhibition. It was later acquired by the French Buddhist Union, an umbrella group representing various Buddhist traditions and created following migration of Buddhists from Vietnam and South Asia. Interestingly, the impulse to renovate the pagoda came from Asian Buddhists who were dismayed at its run-down state, thus adding another layer to the site’s complex international character.

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New Film: The Wisdom to Survive: Climate Change, Capitalism and Community

Here is the press release for a new documentary on climate change, as well as details of its premiere in Dallas, Texas.

Celebrate Mother’s Day by Honoring Mother Earth

Climate Change Film Debuts in Dallas May 9

“You’re born into this and you’re here to love it and to see that it goes on,” Buddhist author Joanna Macy’s soft voice delivers the heartfelt message of The Wisdom to Survive: Climate Change, Capitalism and Community. The award-winning documentary is one of the few to face the impending climate catastrophe head on.
Wisdom to Survive makes its Dallas premiere at White Rock United Methodist Church on May 9, at 7:30 pm. Co-director John Ankele will be present for Q&A. The screening is free, but donations will be accepted. The church is located at 1450 Old Gate Lane, Dallas, TX 75218. To reserve space or watch the film’s trailer, visit Brown Paper Tickets:
The 56-minute film accepts the consensus of scientists that climate change has already arrived, and asks—what is keeping us from action? In discussions with thought leaders and activists, The Wisdom to Survive explores how unlimited growth lies behind climate disruption, and is devastating our planet’s life support system, our social fabric, and the lives of billions of people. The film features Bill McKibben (, Buddhist author Joanna Macy, whale scientist Roger Payne, Herschelle Milford (Surplus People Project), Quincy Saul (Ecosocialist Horizons), and more. They provide insights, answers, and hope. What becomes clear is, we already have the tools we need to change our economy and lifestyle. Our attention must focus on taking action and building community.
Discussion follows with co-director John Ankele, Dr. Tania Homayoun, Conservation Biologist, Texas Audubon, and Yaira Robinson, Texas Interfaith Power & Light. Anna Clark of EarthPeople will moderate. A reception follows.
Dallas Interfaith Power & Light is organizing the program. Community partners include Dallas Shambhala Meditation Center and Video Association of Dallas.
Mother Nature News described The Wisdom to Survive as “one of seven must-see” films at this year’s Environmental Film Festival in Our Nation’s Capital (EFF). The documentary was the key film in the EFF’s special program “The Faith-Based Response to Climate Change.”
Frederic & Mary Ann Brussat of the influential website Spirituality & Practice write:The Wisdom to Survive offers the most inspiring, enlightening, creative, and practical overview of the spiritual dimensions of climate change that we’ve seen.”
Writes Mary Evelyn Tucker of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale: “This film is deeply moving and profoundly engaging. Indeed, it has the potential to transform lives because it provides visions of how we should live in the midst of massive environmental challenges. I cannot recommend it more highly!”
Featured in the Film
  • Rucha Chitnis, Women’s Earth Alliance
  • Nikki Cooley, Jihan Gearon and Roberto Nutlouis, Black Mesa Water Coalition
  • Ben Falk, Whole Systems Design
  • Eugene M Friesen, Composer and Cellist
  • Terran Giacomini
  • Richard Heinberg
  •  Rev. Daniel Jantos
  • Anya Kamenskaya, Future Farmers
  • Stephanie Kaza and Amy Seidl, University of Vermont
  • Joanna Macy, Author
  • Bill McKibben, Founder of
  • Herschelle Milford, Surplus People Project
  • Lawrence Mkhaliph
  • Roger Payne,
  • Quincy Saul and Joel Kovel, Eco Socialists
  • Gus Speth, Co-Founder, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
  • Seema Tripathi, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG)

What Viewers Are Saying

“Marvelous and moving. Beautiful work.”—Fran Korten, Yes! Magazine
“A starkly prophetic film. It combines the direst of warnings with deep love of life. Better than any other film I know, it makes clear that our profit-oriented growth economy has caused the climate catastrophe and cannot itself rescue us from disaster. We need new thinking and a new way of life.”—Tom F. Driver,  Paul Tillich Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary
“Brilliant, achingly poignant. Please SEE THIS FILM—bring it to your community, talk about it, share it with others. It is one of the most artfully-rendered films on the planet’s crisis (and how we move through it) I have ever seen. Extraordinarily moving.—Shyla Nelson, Founder, One Earth One Voice Campaign

“Beautiful, heartbreaking, urgent.” —Organic Soul, Natural & Holistic Living

Directors’ Statement

“Our primary goal for The Wisdom to Survive is to recruit activists. We need a big movement. And we have to connect existing movements. Some of what we’re showing is hard to watch. Whales being killed. Children starving. We’re urging our audience not to look away: take a good look! You must. Otherwise, you won’t do anything about it. You can’t remain the same, once you know. We want to inspire our viewers. Yes, climate change is horrifying. We need to know the facts and their implications, and then take action. You can be fully involved, fully aware, know that your house is on fire, and still be joyful and committed.”

About the Filmmakers

Ankele divides his time between Accord, NY, and New York City. As a producer of radio and TV programming in the 1960s, Ankele used mass media to empower faith communities advocating for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. During the struggle for independence in southern Africa, he worked with and trained political activists in the use of media to bring about social change. As an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church and as a student in the Zen and Shambhala Buddhist traditions, he has been involved for many years in interfaith dialogue around contemplative practice and social justice.

Macksoud is based in Woodstock, VT, and is co-founder of Sustainable Woodstock. She spent 17 years as a teacher (English literature, photography, and music) before transitioning to film and video production. Once she discovered the “eye-opening” power of the documentary medium, she brought rented documentaries into her classroom on a regular basis. Eventually, Macksoud began helping her students make their own films and slide shows on the issues of the day (civil rights, the Vietnam War, and global poverty, to name a few). She approaches filmmaking from the perspective of an artist as well as an educator.

Through their non-profit company Old Dog Documentaries, Macksoud and Ankele have produced timely documentaries on urgent issues about the environment, social justice, and spirituality for over 25 years. Some of their films, such as The Global Banquet: The Politics of Food and Arms for the Poor, are classic references for educational use. Like their past films, The Wisdom to Survive supports Old Dog’s mission of promoting environmental justice and inspiring viewers to become activists.
For more information about The Wisdom to Survive or to view the trailer visit:
Bullfrog Films is the educational distributor for The Wisdom to Survive; Bullfrog is a premier distributor of environmental films.
For a press screener or to book interviews with the filmmakers, contact Angela Alston at or 718-407-0670.
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Poem: Below The Winter Sky

Below The Winter Sky

Below the grey, winter sky,
A covering of snow,
Lay upon the distant hills.
In the valley,
The familiar, but welcome sight
Of the grey stone cottage,
With smoke from the single chimney,
Gently drifting away
Upon the chilling winter breeze.

Journey’s end closer now,
Footsteps quicken through the snow,
Along the narrow lane,
Leading to the path
And the solid timber door
At the front of the cottage.

Already in my mind,
Smells of the kitchen,
A glowing fire,
The warmth and comfort of home.
As I close the door,
Fresh snow covers my tracks
Along the lane,
As winter secures it’s hold
Upon the cottage in the valley.

Inside at last.
Expectations of journey’s end,
As I rest, by the fire,
Of the cottage, in the valley,
Below the grey, winter sky.

Chris Roe

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In the context of the JGB’s just-released issue on Zen and Popular Culture, it’s worth mentioning Buddhism scholar Megan Bryson’s excellent and extensive blog Zensanity, which focuses on the way the “Zen brand” is used in the marketing of various commodities. As Megan herself writes, the purpose of her blog

is not to mock products with Zen labels, or demarcate authentic vs. inauthentic forms of Zen, but to catalogue the vast array of such products and examine what they say about (primarily American) understandings of Zen.

Posted in Briefly noted, The global imaginary | Tagged , | 1 Comment