Buddhism Buddhism and Marxism
by
George D. Bond, Michael Nichols
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0237

Introduction

Though Buddhism as a religious movement far predates the sociopolitical force known as Marxism, a few factors have led to their conjunction in scholarship. The first factor is certain seeming affinities between the two systems of thought. For instance, according to many of the sources recounting his teachings, the Buddha focused on liberating individuals from a world of pain and suffering. In this primarily humanist approach, insofar as the divine is not explicitly invoked, some scholars have seen a similarity to Marxism, which has sought liberation for humans from oppressive economic and material situations.The second factor is the vigorous scholarly debate ensuing from the preceding claims by those who deny any kinship between Buddhist and Marxist thought. The third factor is the prevalence of Marxist thought in countries that either currently or historically have been predominantly Buddhist, such as Sri Lanka and China. This bibliography, aside from one work of general overview, is divided along these seams in the scholarship, detailing sources on the one hand that argue for the compatibility of Buddhism and Marxism, sources on the other hand that see the two as disconnected, and finally works focusing on the interaction of the two in a particular region or country.

General Overview

For those wishing to get a quick grasp on some of the scholarship about Buddhism and Marxism, as well as an overview of the political interaction in the Southeast Asian region, Katz and Sowle 1987 is perhaps the best resource. In addition to surveying those who have attempted to synthesize the two perspectives alongside those who pushed them apart, the chapter provides a substantial survey of Buddhist and Marxist thought in the Southeast Asian region.

  • Katz, Nathan, and Stephen Sowle. “Theravada Buddhism and Marxism in the Postwar Era.” In Movements and Issues in World Religions: A Sourcebook and Analysis of Developments since 1945. Edited by Charles Wei-hsun Fu and Gerhard Spiegler, 417–462. New York: Greenwood, 1987.

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    This book chapter serves as perhaps the best general overview piece on the entire bibliography. It is divided up into sections that actually mirror the categories created in this article. After a brief introduction on Buddhism, Katz and Sowle consider in turn thinkers who have argued for the compatibility of Buddhism and Marxism and then those who argue for its inherent disjuncture. Finally, they survey developments between Buddhism and Marxism in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand, taking a close look at the regional inflections of the interaction between the two ways of thought.

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