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Buddhism in Africa

Buddhism in Africa Research Trip 2024 

 

 

 

Overview    

Schedule    

August 9 - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania    

August 10 - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania    

August 11 - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania    

August 12 - Malawi, Blantyre    

August 13 - Blantyre, Malawi    

August 14 - Drive to Maputo, Mozambique    

August 15 - Malawi/Mozambique    

August 16 - Fly to Lusaka, Zambia    

August 17 - Lusaka, Zambia    

August 18 - Return to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania    

August 19 - Optional Zanzibar Trip    

August 20 - Optional Zanzibar Trip    

 

Suggested Reading List    

 

 

Overview 

Woodenfish is organising a trip for academics, journalists, and others to visit Chinese and Taiwanese Buddhist monasteries and organisations in East Africa. This trip is an opportunity for scholars to think about the arrival of Chinese Buddhism in Africa– a recent but not insignificant phenomenon in the spread of Buddhism around the world. 

The Woodenfish Foundation founded and headed by Venerable Yifa, is an international, non sectarian, and non governmental organisation that has spent the past twenty years working to establish a global network of ethical and compassionate professionals, scholars, and leaders. Woodenfish has been organising the ‘Buddhism in China’ study tours annually since 2009, where scholars have conducted research trips to various Chinese Buddhist institutions, and now ‘Buddhism in Africa’ will expand Woodenfish’s education-based approach to understanding the Dharma into another set of transnational and cross-cultural contexts in East Africa.

Historically, Buddhism is said to have arrived on the continent with the visit of Zhenghe’s fleet to East Africa in the early 15th century, but its presence was as fleeting as the Chinese ambitions for maritime exploration, which were discontinued promptly. It has only really been in the modern period that Buddhism took any institutional form in Africa, and only in the late twentieth century did we begin to see any substantial Buddhist presence, largely due to the global Taiwanese Buddhist expansion of the 1990s and the more recent wave of mainland Chinese organisations. However the first and oldest Buddhsit temple in Africa is the Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple in Dar es Salam founded in 1920 by a monk who had come with 500 Indian workers to work in Tanganyika. It is still in operation, running an orphanage and hosting regular Dharma events, and cooperates with the other Buddhist groups on the continent. The formal entrance of Han Chinese Buddhism into Africa occurred in 1992, when Nanhua Monastery was built just outside of Pretoria, South Africa. The monk in charge, Venerable Huili, then established the Amitofo Care Centre (ACC), which now raises thousands of children across six countries in Sub Saharan Africa. After these Taiwanese institutions, including Tzu Chi which also conducts charity in Africa, there has now also been a wave of mainland Chinese Buddhsit groups following in their footsteps. 

This research trip will take us around some of the key contemporary Buddhist institutions in East Africa, including stops in Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. We will begin our trip at the oldest Buddhist temple (1920) in Africa, the Therevada Buddhist temple in Dar es Salaam, where we will meet with Master Pannasekera. We will also visit the first two of the mainland Chinese Buddhist systems who have begun to take an interest in expanding into Africa, including Longquan Tanhua Temple (2017) and Shaolin Cultural Centre (2019). While visiting the former, we will meet with people from the local Buddhist studies groups (which they will develop into Buddhist Churches) around Dar es Salaam, we will attend Swahili and Chinese dharma events on Sunday, and also visit their recently opened Buddhist Chinese international school. At Shaolin temple we will see how Buddhism is perhaps cooperating with the state, and how the cultural soft power of Shaolin Gongfu is being used in Africa by Chinese Buddhists. We will also get an inside look at the Amitofo Children’s Care Centre, the largest Buddhist organisation on the continent, visiting their operations in both Malawi and Mozambique. Along the way we have organised dialogues with the key figures involved, and many chances to see these places in operation. We will also be able to attend the first meeting of the Buddhism in Africa Conference, which will involve discussions with all of the major institutions on the continent. While empirically these phenomena may be new, they touch on some persisting questions in anthropology, religious studies, and China-Africa studies. The cross cutting influences of religious, political, linguistic, class and ethnic differences within these Buddhist missionary and charity spaces gives us a window into how cross cultural engagements unfold, and give us a new angle on China-Africa relations. 

This is the second iteration of the ‘Buddhism in Africa’ research trip, which began in 2023 by visiting Buddhist institutions in South Africa, Eswatini and Madagascar (report forthcoming), and moving forward we plan to continue conducting these research visits, with potential locations for 2025 including Uganda and the Republic of the Congo. While there is no explicit agenda for research output from this trip, pending the potential scholars who are interested, we would very much like to present our findings as a panel at conferences, and would also be interested in exploring the possibility of collaborating on a writing project, in whatever form that may take. 

We are really looking forward to having you on this trip, and would love to get your feedback on the following details. 

 

 

 

 

Schedule

*The following schedule is an approximation and details could change moving forward. 

 

August 9 - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

All participants will be arriving throughout the day, at different times, so all of the events here are optional for those who can make them. 

  • Morning: 

    • Arrive in Dar es Salaam.

    • Check-in at the hotel.

    • Local coffee

  • Afternoon:

    • Lunch at the hotel

    • Trip to local mosque to observe Friday prayer

  • Evening:

    • Welcome dinner at Mama Afrika, Tanzanian food

    • Trip briefing and group discussion 

 

 

 

August 10 - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

  • Morning:

    • Breakfast at the hotel.

    • Depart for the first Buddhist Temple in Africa, to meet the Sri Lankan Theravada monk there who runs an orphanage called Kind Heart Africa

  • Afternoon:

    • Fried cassava lunch (other local options available)

    • Drive to Longquan Tanhua Temple’s new school and temple in Chamazi with their monastic and lay volunteers

    • Visit to local Buddhist studies group

  • Evening:

    • Return to the hotel 

 

 

 

August 11 - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

  • Morning:

    • Breakfast at the hotel.

    • Visit Tanhua Temple for their Sunday events

    • 9:30 meditation or sutra recitation

    • 10:30 Q&A with the master in Chinese

    • 11:10 Lunch at the temple

  • Afternoon:

    • 12:30 Swahili language Dharma talk by Joseph

    • 2:30 Master gives local followers a Dharma talk followed by Q&A

    • Chance to have a dialogue with the monastics at Tanhua Temple

  • Evening:

    • Return to hotel

    • Free time

 

 

 

August 12 - Malawi, Blantyre

  • Morning:

    • Early breakfast and check-out.

    • Fly to Malawi, disembark at Blantyre

    • Check in to the Amitofo Care Centre (ACC) in Blantyre

  • Afternoon:

    • Tour of the temple, school and orphanage

    • Conversation with their senior students

    • Potential Inaugural Conference for all Buddhists in Africa in Malawi, TBC

  • Evening:

    • Welcome performance by the ACC students

 

 

 

August 13 - Blantyre, Malawi

  • Morning:

    • Optional morning service

    • Dialogue with the principal and teachers

  • Afternoon:

    • Visit to the Bodhi Park farm run by ACC

  • Evening:

    • Return to ACC

 

 

 

August 14 - Drive to Maputo, Mozambique

  • Morning:

    • Breakfast at ACC

    • Begin the drive to Maputo, Mozambique.

  • Afternoon:

    • En-route lunch.

    • Options for scenic routes

  • Evening:

    • Arrive at hotel midway 

    • Dinner and free time

 

 

 

August 15 - Malawi/Mozambique

  • Morning:

    • Breakfast at the hotel.

    • Drive to ACC Mozambique.

  • Afternoon:

    • Tour of ACC Mozambique

    • Meeting the Principal 

  • Evening:

    • Dinner

    • Discussion session with local students

 

 

 

August 16 - Fly to Lusaka, Zambia

  • Morning:

    • Early breakfast and check-out.

    • Fly to Lusaka, Zambia.

    • Check-in at the hotel/or Shaolin Temple

  • Afternoon:

    • Tour of Shaolin Temple

  • Evening:

    • Gongfu performance

    • Dinner with monastics at Shaolin Temple

 

 

 

August 17 - Lusaka, Zambia

  • Morning:

    • Free time, optional visit to local crafts area

  • Afternoon:

    • Lunch at Shaolin Temple

  • Evening:

    • Leisure and free time

 

 

 

August 18 - Return to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

  • Morning:

    • Breakfast at the hotel

    • Check-out and fly back to Dar es Salaam

  • Afternoon:

    • Arrival in Dar es Salaam

  • Evening:

    • Farewell Dinner at the hotel and reflection on trip

    • Discussion about potential writing projects

 

 

 

August 19 - Optional Zanzibar Trip

  • Morning:

    • Breakfast at the hotel.

    • Option: Ferry to Zanzibar

  • Afternoon:

    • Tour of the Ancient Swahili ruins in Stone Town

  • Evening:

    • Local dinner

 

 

 

August 20 - Optional Zanzibar Trip

  • Morning:

    • Breakfast at the hotel.

    • Start of cultural tours, including local markets, museums, and historical sites.

  • Afternoon:

    • Lunch at a local restaurant.

    • Ferry back to Dar es Salaam

  • Evening:

    • Scholars depart Dar es Salaam

 

Suggested Reading List

The following sources represent the very limited work on Buddhism in Africa, in order from oldest to newest, the last source including data from some of the place we will visit.

 

Clasquin, M. (1997). UBUNTU DHARMA: Buddhism and African Thought. Journal for the Study of Religion, 10(2), 57–74.

 

Clasquin-Johnson, Michel. “Buddhism in Africa.” In The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism, edited by Michael Jerryson, 0. Oxford University Press, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199362387.013.13.

 

Reinke, Jens. “The Buddha in Bronkhorstspruit: The Transnational Spread of the Taiwanese Buddhist Order Fo Guang Shan to South Africa.” Contemporary Buddhism 21, no. 1–2 (July 2, 2020): 15–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/14639947.2020.1723286.

 

Reinke, Jens. Mapping Modern Mahayana: Chinese Buddhism and Migration in the Age of Global Modernity, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2021. 

 

Xuefei Shi & Hangwei Li (2023) Chinese Buddhism in Africa: The Entanglement of Religion, Politics and Diaspora, Contemporary Buddhism, DOI: 10.1080/14639947.2023.2242074

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