Theory and Method in the Study of Buddhism: Toward ‘Translocative’ Analysis

Thomas A. Tweed

Abstract


Focusing on theory and method in the study of U.S. Buddhism, this article analyzes the subfield’s interpretive categories and theoretical assumptions during each of its four phases. A new phase opened in 2000, and no single theory or method has emerged as predominant, just as few scholars have scrutinized the moral implications of their frameworks. Most prevailing interpretive models, which are borrowed from scholars not trained in religious studies, remain indifferent or hostile to religious practice, or specialists draw on models from religious studies that commit the interpreter to a static and bounded notion of culture that offers little aid to those who want to study the dynamics of religious practice in the era of global flows. Further, whether the guiding models are derived from religious studies or not, the models’ moral implications are not always examined. The emergent concerns of the subfield, in other words, are not well served by the available theories of religion and the usual methodological prescriptions. To address that problem, in this essay I propose one possible framework for the ‘translocative’—not international, transnational, or global—study of Buddhism.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Thomas A. Tweed

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