23 May 2012
Congratulations to Dan Whillis who had his PhD viva on 21 May. His thesis 'Postsecular Awakening: Vision and Commitment in a Western Buddhist Community' was passed and praised by his examiners with no substantive corrections required.
The thesis presents a sustained engagement with the notion of postsecularism. Theoretically, this idea is interpreted as something subjectively more than both secular reflexiveness and individualized spirituality, but also rather less than 'revival of religion' as such. In an era of 'fragilized' meanings and identities, significant numbers of people and groups are striving towards a sense of subjective or spiritual 'awakening', whether this is actually achieved or not. Empirically, the thesis involved fieldwork and interviews with members of the Bristol Triratna Buddhist community (formerly Friends of the Western Buddhist Order), exploring the social practices and changing sensibilities of those typically moving from a secular form of consciousness to a more serious engagement with Buddhist ideas and disciplines. The findings suggest that such transformation is largely gradual, often disjointed, not always seen through, and considerably ambivalent. Still, the notion of postsecularism does usefully latch on to some relatively novel features of these personal journeys and the social- and self-understandings that they represent.