Buddhism in Canada is represented by a diverse collection of different forms of Buddhism that originate in different Asian countries, like Japan, China, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. There are also a number of groups mostly made up of non-Asians who have converted to Buddhism or were born to convert families. One thing that is clear is that the way that almost all of these groups practice Buddhism is not the same as it was traditionally practiced in Asia a hundred fifty years ago. It is not so clear, though, in what ways it is changing and why.

The common hypothesis goes something like this: just as Buddhism travelled from India to China and was transformed to be suitable with Chinese culture, and just as Buddhism travelled to Japan and changed to become more Japanese, so, too, will Buddhism change in the West to adapt to Western culture. Much Western scholarship on Buddhism in places like America and Europe (studies on Buddhism in Canada are only just getting started) has taken this premise as a starting point and then sought to document how Buddhism is adapting to the West.

In 2013, John Harding (University of Lethbridge), Victor Hori (McGill University), and Alec Soucy (Saint Mary’s University) were awarded a substantial SSHRC grant to challenge this premise. They instead want to show that the changes that we see taking place in all Buddhist communities in Canada are not so much a result of Buddhism becoming Canadianized, but because of a global transformation of Buddhism, of which Buddhism in Canada is a part. The project, entitled The Modernization of Buddhism in Global Perspective, will start by looking at the early conversations of Buddhist reform movements that grew up in different countries in Asia as a response to Western colonial pressures and aggressive Christian missionization. It will then show that many of the transformations that we see taking place in Canada emerge from these early reforms. In the latter half of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first, these changes are accelerating because of the increase in population movement and global communication.

The SSHRC grant started in 2013 and runs for five years. A major component of the grant is an international conference planned for 2016.