New Fieldwork on Shin Buddhist Communities

New Fieldwork on Shin Buddhist Communities

  • Saturday, June 1, 2013 | 3:15 – 5:15pm | Gage Residence, Fort Camp Lounge

Daniel Friedrich (McMaster University) “Distilling Dharma: Preaching and Teaching in Contemporary Shin Buddhism”

Beyond their didactic function, dharma talks are often described as the essential practice of Shin Buddhism, providing crucial opportunities for followers to “hear the dharma (聽聞 chōmon).” Despite this vital role, dharma talks have received very little ethnographic attention from scholars in either English or Japanese. Based on ongoing fieldwork in Hokkaido, this paper explores how concepts such as other power, shinjin, and Amida’s identity take shape in actual dharma talks. I then theorize what exploring preaching in specific contexts reveals about the numerous forces shaping contemporary Shin Buddhism.

Susie Andrews (Saint Joseph’s University) “Replacing Sukhāvatī: The Centrality of Śākyamuni and India in Contemporary BCA Dharma School Programming”

This paper examines the central place that Śākyamuni and his Indian homeland occupy in the Buddhist Church of America’s (BCA) Dharma School programming. It is built around a careful study of curriculum designed to guide the volunteer instructors who provide religious education to children at BCA-affiliated Jodo Shinshu temples across the United States today. The project considers the process by which Śākyamuni and the Indian landscape eclipsed Amida Buddha and Sukhāvatī in BCA Dharma School instructional material and activities during the latter half of the twentieth-century. Calling attention to contemporary and historical developments that have shaped this dimension of Pure Land praxis, the study offers a window into the ways that different local religious communities strategically apply received tradition. One part of a larger project on American Dharma Schools, the paper aims to contribute to a growing body of scholarship that considers the roles that children play in Buddhist contexts.

Scott A. Mitchell (Institute of Buddhist Studies) “From Gagaku to Calypso: Shifting Identities in US Shin Buddhist Music”

Typical US Shin Buddhist services include two distinct types of music, shōmyō and gāthā, the former representing a tie to classical Japanese Buddhist practice patterns and the later representing a space for creative and innovative expressions of Shin Buddhist practice and faith. Generally set to Western-style music, these gāthā are a mix of traditional and folk Japanese songs, Shinran’s wasan, and contemporary compositions written by living members of the community. Moreover, members continue to compose new works in a variety of genres and styles — from jazz to Jamaican mento to progressive rock — or sing non-Buddhist songs as gāthā. In this paper I profile some of these Buddhist music makers and explore what their musics may reveal about practice patterns and shifting identities in North American Shin Buddhism.

Anne C. Spencer (The College of Idaho) “Neither Heritage nor Convert Buddhism: Diversifying Practices and Demographics in American Jodo Shinshu”

Researchers of American Buddhism often divide American Buddhist groups into two categories—“Heritage,” founded by immigrants, and “Convert,” founded by Americans of European descent.  In both cases, these groups typically originated in the latter half of the 20th century. Jodo Shinshu Buddhism has been in America for over century and provides a potential model for how Heritage Buddhist institutions adapt over time.  I present data on the demographics and practice of American Jodo Shinshu Buddhists (AJSS) from my 2011 survey of the Buddhist Churches of America membership.  My results demonstrate that AJSS has features of both Heritage and Convert groups and no longer fits neatly into either category, suggesting that the usefulness of the “Two Buddhisms” paradigm may become outdated as American Buddhism matures.

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