“Architects of Buddhist Leisure” by Justin Thomas McDaniel

Pages: 3
Words: 880


In his book, Architects of Buddhist Leisure, Justin McDaniel guides a reader through various non-regular Buddhist spaces in the Asian region. The author provocatively encourages to reconsider the category of religious architecture through critical reflection and the narrative and historical detail. The book compares public Buddhist sites in different countries to hypothesize the concept of Buddhist leisure. Buddhism is commonly perceived as an austere faith denouncing desire, facilitating denial, and deifying the contemplation; however, it has a prosperous leisure culture in Asia. With that said, McDaniel strives to demonstrate how such places are transcending the limits usually considered to divide the secular and religious aspects of life.

Summary of the Introduction

The primary goal of the book is based on the reassessment of the conventional scholarly difference between the secular and the sacred notions. McDaniel gradually takes a reader on tour since the introduction section based on his precisely observed studies of the sacred places in Japan, India, Singapore, and other regions. The author is focused on examining what such spiritual sites denote about the “study of religion” (McDaniel, 2016, p. 5). Moreover, each of the book chapters is deeply grounded in three central arguments about the Buddhist leisure places, which are defined as crucial for the study of modern religion in more general terms. Such statements are based on the importance of public religious culture, growing Buddhist ecumenism, and the failure of the well-formulated plans.

Summary of Chapter 1: Monuments and Metabolism

The first chapter analyzes monuments and memorials with a particular outlook on the life of the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and his design of the Lumbini Memorial Park in Nepal in honor of the Buddha’s birthplace. At the commencement, the park was planned to be a monument celebrating Buddhism as one of the leading faith in the world. However, this place unintentionally transformed into a venue for leisure and family activities instead of a place of Buddhist worship. The chapter reveals how the sanctuary spaces are continually changing and repurposing within the elimination of boundaries between the secular and religious aspects of life.

Summary of Chapter 2: Ecumenical Parks and Cosmological Gardens

The second chapter refers to the second argument of the book with particular emphasis on historical and amusement parks, specifically the oeuvre of Lek and Braphai Wiriyaphan. It is a Thai couple who collaborated to create the Sanctuary of Truth and the Ancient City in central Thailand. Both religious landmarks are examples of leisure sites designed by and for the amateurs who apply spectacle and entertainment in their desire to attract and satisfy visitors. Therefore, McDaniel (2016) argues that trends peculiar to these Buddhist locations play a relevant role in the research field beyond Buddhist studies. More importantly, the author states that such sites reflect an ecumenical form of Buddhism, indicating a concern for authenticity and encouraging any one way of following Buddhism.

Summary of Chapter 3: Buddhist Museums and Curio Cabinets

The final third chapter of the book addresses the museums with a special focus on the Venerable Shi Fa Zhao’s efforts to construct the Nagapusa Buddhist Culture Museum. The museum was built in the context of a versatile temple in Singapore that keeps Buddha’s tooth relic. McDaniel (2016) defines it as a “multipurpose temple” through the analysis of the design of this ecumenical Buddhist museum, along with other contemporary Buddhist museum sites in Asia (p. 27). The examined museums represent the concept of “local optima” based on the sacrifice of the enlightening power of religious art for the “affective experience of visiting a museum” (McDaniel, 2016, p. 161). The created museum experience allowed visitors to experience Buddhist distraction in a leisure way. Hence, the book’s final argument implies that the particular visions and purposes for the established religious sites rarely turn up exactly as it was originally planned.

Scholarly Opinion of the Book

One of the critical scholarly discussions about McDaniel’s work is organized by T. N. Patton with a group of scholars (2017) of diverse disciplinary and regional research areas. Morgan (2017) states that the modern conception of art provokes ecumenism in accordance with the “audience-oriented experience of consuming leisure” and the emergence of public culture presenting Buddhist artifacts as art (p. 8). Hansen and Borchert (2017) argue that Buddhist leisure sites demonstrate the inability to interfere with the Buddhist lives or any other lives into separate categories. Ultimately, according to Fox (2017), the book is based on the “incoherence of the leisurely and distracting art” (p. 18). He believes that the success of the architectural study depends upon what the readers decide themselves capable of doing with it.


To conclude, McDaniel manages to provide convincing arguments through each book’s chapters in compliance with three types of public sites for Buddhist leisure activity. He examines how leisure studies are fundamental to the more comprehensive understanding of Buddhists’ lives and religious practice. The scholars believe that the sites depicted in this book emphasize the significant role of religious public culture by showing that leisure is integral to the study of religion. Nonetheless, his work can be considered a contemporary vision of Buddhism through the lens of leisure sites aimed at reinforcing the traditional perception of the linkage between the religious and the secular, as well as the public and the private.


McDaniel, J. T. (2016). Architects of Buddhist Leisure: Socially disengaged Buddhism in Asia’s museums, monuments, and amusement parks. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Patton, T. N., Morgan, D., Hansen, A., Borchert, T., Fox, R., & McDaniel, J. (2017). Studying sites of Buddhist leisure: A discussion of Justin Thomas McDaniel’s Architects of Buddhist leisure. Heidelberg Ethnology, 5, pp. 1–22. Web.