Community engagement, aspirations, and the youth of Soka Singapore (completed)

Jayeel Serrano Cornelio

Soka Gakkai is a Buddhist movement is known all over the world for its various forms of community engagement. It believes in the transformation of the world for the sake of universal peace, harmony with nature, and the overall progress of humanity. Studies of Soka Gakkai have tried to understand the phenomenon as a new religious movement, giving emphasis to how it localizes, how it attracts new members, and even how it tries to influence politics.

To complement these studies, the interest of this research is in the philanthropic engagement of youth in Soka Gakkai in Singapore. What does community engagement for Soka youth mean? And how do these engagements relate to wider issues of youth and politics in Singapore? Drawing on interviews with the youth of Soka, I probed how community engagement affords space for the youth to identify with a novel Buddhist organization and at the same time contribute to their society. 

One area where community engagement is deliberate for the youth of Soka Singapore is cultural performances. The organization is also known in Singapore for its performances in such events as the National Day Parade and Chingay. This is part of the Soka’s attempts to project itself as a cultural organization working for peace and progress in the city-state. One emerging finding is that participation is articulated by youth as a form of religious patriotism. For them, it is about sending a message that individual and collective struggles can be overcome and that peace and harmony can be fostered. These nuances point to the nationalization of religion, which I am proposing as the process in which the secularist interests of the State are articulated and enacted by religious entities participating in cultural performances. Put differently, such cultural performances by religious entities are shrouded in a nationalistic character that renders the religious significantly invisible and the prevailing political order unquestioned.

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