Paulina Karolina Kolata

Paulina Karolina Kolata


Dr Paulina (Paula) Kolata is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Fellow at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS) and the Centre for Contemporary Buddhist Studies (CCBS).

Before joining ToRS, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University where she worked on revising her doctoral thesis into a book manuscript titled Belonging in Troubled Times: Buddhism and Depopulation in Contemporary Japan (under review with the University of Hawai`i Press, Contemporary Buddhism Series) where I document post-growth survival of Buddhist temple communities in regional Japan.

I am an interdisciplinary scholar with interest in Japanese religions, rurality, value economies, labour, affect, heritage, materiality, and environmental impacts of religious practice. My work explores ethnographically the socio-economic and demographic complexities of religion in contemporary Japan, focusing on Buddhism, depopulation, and people’s everyday lived experiences and their relations to particular pasts and imagined futures. I am also interested in creative methodologies including film, audio and photography, and collaborative ethnographic approaches.  

During my time at ToRS and CCBS, I am working on my EU-funded research project “REFUSE: Disrupting Buddhist circular economies – excess and abandonment in contemporary Japan.” This new project questions what can morally and practically become waste in Buddhist contexts. From food donations to unused Buddhist statues, the relational histories of such burdensome objects will document the environmental and socio-economic impacts of and disruptions to Buddhist practices in Japan. By paying attention to the circular nature of Buddhist material exchanges, I am collaborating with local temple communities in Japan to understand the waste-making effects of religious activity and to assesses the spiritual and practical implications of managing religious excess in the world’s fastest ageing society. Along the way, I will train to and use film and digital storytelling as means of capturing the affects and emotions involved in navigating religious material excess.


MSCA Fellowship Official Abstract

REFUSE: Disrupting Buddhist circular economies – excess and abandonment in contemporary Japan


Anti-materialism is the most pervasive popular assumption about Buddhism that obscures Buddhism’s material presence and its environmental impacts. Problematising such moulds, this ethnographic project will demonstrate how Buddhist materiality drives Buddhist circular economies, rooted in practices of merit-making and inherited ritual labour. By tracing Buddhist objects’ biographies and illuminating the circular nature of Buddhist material exchanges, I will investigate how things given to local temples generate excess and abandonment practices in contemporary post-growth Japan. Through histories of these objects and their relations, I will uncover how demographic hyper-ageing, regional depopulation, and changing consumption patterns inform and disrupt Buddhist material exchanges: how family altars and other personal ritual items, as well as meritorious food, land and object donations get caught up in discard, disposal, and reuse cycles and what emotional, ethical, practical, and spiritual implications ensue. As such, I will illuminate how Buddhist practices for processing accumulation and abandonment of Buddhist gifts are key to understanding contemporary Buddhism, and the wider issues of consumption, recycling, and aspirational non-waste economies they inhabit. I will therefore consider Buddhist giving as forces that generate and handle excess and abandonment that challenge the viability of the circular economy ideal by producing waste. Global concern about waste continues to rise: this research interrogates the waste-making impacts of religious activity and assesses the spiritual and practical implications of managing religious excess in the world’s fastest ageing society. It complements, and is complemented by, the research at the CCBS interrogating Buddhist economic entanglements and waste that is created by Buddhist economic exchanges.


My other research areas include: 

  • Heritage: I am particularly interested in the processes of heritage-making, including religious labour of crafting, renovation, preservation, fabrication and discard. I also follow the use of technology in heritage, heritage economies, and heritage practices and imaginaries in the periphery on the borders of and beyond the institutional frameworks of UNESCO designation.


ID: 337998920