Duncan Ryuken Williams and Christopher S. Queen, eds. American Buddhism: Methods and Findings in Recent Scholarship. Foreword by Diana L. Eck. Richmond, England: Curzon, 1999. Paperback, xxxvii + 329 pages.
After a long period of scholarly silence on Buddhism in the West, we have witnessed a number of monographs on the subject during the last decade. The present anthology renders a yeoman’s service by examining the American Buddhist scene.
Consisting of thirteen contributions, this volume is the most comprehensive scholarly treatment of American Buddhism to date. The essays are organized into four parts, which are abstractly entitled “Asian American Buddhists Identities,” “Profiling the New Buddhists,” “Modes of Dharma Transmissions,” and “The Scholar’s Place in American Buddhist Studies.”
The essays in the first part examine various ethnic issues relating to Far Eastern Buddhist communities in America. The contributions in the second part address issues of membership, which, given the complex American society, present interesting problems for sociologists in terms of redefining the concept of membership. Not a few of those who study Buddhist texts and/or practice Buddhist teachings are what Thomas Tweed calls “night-stand” Buddhists—sympathizers who would not consider themselves “adherents.”
An important traditional issue relates to the authenticity of the transmission of Buddhist teachings, and this topic is address in the third part. The boundaries between various Buddhist orientations have become more pervious, and the number of inter-Buddhist organizations is increasing, which, among other objectives, share the goal of influencing the larger society in positive ways.
The essays in the fourth part of this volume address the question of the place of scholarship in American Buddhism. While the academic climate still worships the classical ideal of “objectivity,” it would appear more and more scholars of Buddhism also have a Buddhist practice—a refreshing change. Charles Prebish’s educated guess is that at this point 25 percent of scholars have admitted to being practicing Buddhists, while another 25 percent keep their adherence to Buddhist practice quiet to avoid opprobrium.
Buddhism and Buddhist Studies in America have come a long way, and this volume traces some of their historical pathways in addition to providing the best available demographics and sociological overview.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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