June 20, 2009

Becoming Chinese Buddhists in the West

The Christian Century reviews Carolyn Chen’s Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience:
I suspect that the first eyebrow-raising moment in Chen’s book for educated, liberal white Americans like me—who admire the Dalai Lama and regard the rigors of Zen practice with awe—will be when they read that Buddhism, at least in its traditional syncretic form, stands in low repute among Chinese immigrants. It is grandmother’s religion: rustic, ritualistic, superstitious and profoundly unmodern, a part of the immigrant baggage they are only too happy to jettison.

It is also a religion about which most have had little reason to learn anything at all. When they say they’re Buddhist to fend off their Chinese Christian neighbors’ invitations, they embrace what they had previously regarded as a stigmatized identity. It is a welcome discovery for them that a few of the sparsely distributed Chinese Buddhist temples around them (one-quarter as many as the Chinese Protestant churches) articulate a modernized humanistic Buddhism that was becoming widespread in Taiwan only as they were leaving for the U.S. in the 1980s. Eventually some of them convert to this Buddhism, which Chen calls an explicit religion (in contrast to an “embedded” religion).

These newly “explicit” Buddhists will still be lumped in with “embedded” Buddhists if we divide the community in terms of traditional/ethnic versus Western. Good food for thought. I’ll see if I can go check out this book.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for the tip. I read an article by Chen in North American Buddhists in Social Context where she talks about this issue. I'll have to check out the book!

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