Religious Studies | Buddhism in America
R635 | 3897 | Nattier
In this seminar we will explore several aspects of the Buddhist
landscape of 19th and 20th century North America: the forms of
Buddhism brought to this country by immigrants from Asian countries,
the forms of Buddhism that have spread as a result of active
missionary activity by Asian teachers, and finally, the versions of
Buddhism (often quite distant from those found in any Asian country)
that have grown up here as a result of active appropriation by
American religious seekers.
Readings will include methodological studies (dealing with such topics
as conversion theory, ethnicity and immigration, sociological
approaches to the study of "new religions," and problems of definition
of our subject area) as well as both insider and outsider discussions
of a variety of American Buddhist groups. We will also make use of
audiovisual materials (again from both insider and outsider
perspectives) documenting recent events in several such groups.
Questions to be considered include: To what extent have patterns of
Asian immigration to the U.S. affected the diffusion of Buddhism in
this country, and what factors seem to affect whether a given ethnic
group will preserve its Buddhist heritage or transfer its allegiance
to a more "mainstream" religion (usually Protestant Christianity)?
How have the core values of the dominant American religions affected
the beliefs and/or practices of Buddhist groups as they put down roots
here? Are there identifiable subgroups within American Buddhism, and
if so, to what extent are members of these different groups have
anything in common? Is Buddhism likely to survive in North America,
or is the high level of current interest in this religion only a
passing fad? Finally, we will consider the "backwash" effect,
examining the degree to which Western religious attitudes and the
experience of Buddhist groups in this country have affected the shape
of Buddhist thought and practice in Sri Lanka, Japan, and other Asian
nations, thus placing Buddhism in North America within the context of
contemporary developments in transnational studies.
Prerequisite: R354, R336, R432, or permission of instructor. Note
that this seminar requires some background in Buddhism or North
American religious history, but not both.
Requirements: active participation in seminar discussions, including
short critical assessments of selected readings (approximately three
per student per semester), and a final research paper (topic to be
chosen in consultation with the instructor).