Why is Soka Gakkai one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today? Founded in post-World War II Japan, this Buddhist movement claims upwards of 15 million members, including more than a half million in North and South America. It sponsors two universities in the United States.
Professor Dobbelaere points to several reasons for its growth. Soka Gakkai emphasizes inner peace rather than rules of behavior or hierarchical allegiance. Sociologists describe it as “trans-modern,” meaning that it blends ancient and contemporary sensitivities such as Buddhist mysticism, science, art and music, a concern for the environment, and social activism.
Initially there was a reliance on aggressive proselyting, later replaced with a more moderate encouragement to share with friends. The movement now engages other faiths in cultural and intellectual exchanges and in pursuit of common ethical objectives. This adaptability and sincere concern for its membership and for society as a whole bode well for its future success.
Karel Dobbelaere is an emeritus professor of sociology, Catholic University of Leuven and University of Antwerp, Belgium. He has been a Visiting Fellow at All Souls’ College, Oxford University; at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan; at Sofia University in Tokyo; at the Institut de Recherche sur les Sociétés Contemporaines, Paris; and at Kent State University in Ohio. He is a former president of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion and is the author of some twenty books and nearly 200 articles published in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Polish.