Jim Garrison Gives AESA Kneller Lecture on Nichiren Buddhism and Deweyan Pragmatism

On November 8, Jim Garrison (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) delivered the 2018 George F. Kneller lecture at the annual meeting of the American Educational Studies Association (AESA), held in Greenville, SC. Titled “Nichiren Buddhism and Deweyan Pragmatism: An Eastern-Western Integration of Thought,” Garrison’s lecture drew from and expanded themes present in his published dialogue with Daisaku Ikeda and Larry Hickman, Living as Learning: John Dewey in the 21st Century (Dialogue Path Press, 2014).

Jim Garrison Kneller Lecture Slide

In the first part of his lecture, Garrison drew on both Nichiren Buddhism’s and Dewey’s rejection of the metaphysics of substance. For Dewey, his response was to advocate growth as the aim of education, suggesting that the meaning of life is to create more meaning, which, Garrison compared to Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism’s call for continuous creation of the values of beauty, benefit and good. He then compared the Buddhist concept of dependent origination with Deweyan transactionalism, concluding that the qualities and traits of events only emerge reciprocally and co-dependently. Garrison asserted that “individuals only have un-actualized potential insofar as there are other things and people with which they are yet to transact.”

Introducing his own experience of engaging in dialogue with Daisaku Ikeda, Garrison drew connections between Dewey’s and Ikeda’s philosophies as well as the field of Ikeda/Soka Studies in Education. By drawing from Ikeda’s notion of “religious humanism” and Dewey’s concept of “the religious” in A Common Faith, Garrison declared that “Dewey and Ikeda’s new humanism recognizes that becoming human is an endless project in an ever-changing world.” He concluded with the idea of what he calls “social self-creation,” connecting it back to the Nichiren Buddhist notion of dependent origination and Soka progenitor Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s emphasis on contributing to the good of the community. Quoting Ikeda’s following assertion from their published dialogue, “the task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more human experience in which all share and to which all contribute” (p. 198), Garrison emphasized that, for both Dewey and Ikeda, co-creative dialogues across differences are key to living a life of creative democracy.

Garrison also recognized AESA’s role in supporting work in the field of Ikeda/Soka Studies in Education, noting the 2009 special Makiguchi issue of Educational Studies and the fact that AESA has featured at least one session related to this field at nearly every annual conference since 2007, including two at the 2018 meeting.


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