Limited Engagements: Revisiting the Non-encounter between American Buddhism and the Shin Tradition

Galen Amstutz


An apparent discrepancy exists between (on one hand) recent interests among non-Asian American Buddhists (that is, persons of European extraction, hereafter referred to as NAABs) in inventing a democratic, egalitarian form of the Buddhism and (on the other hand) the simultaneous, continuing disinterest regarding conversation with the large Shin Buddhist tradition in Japan. The discrepancy is not best explained by "Asian ethnicity" in the familiar sense. A better analysis considers the peculiar minority position of any relatively "communalist" religion in the USA. The sector of Americans who are currently communalist are Judeo-Christian and are not "shopping" for Buddhism; on the other hand the NAAB sector, which is looking for non-Christian alternatives, may express a surface interest in egalitarianism but at the same time favors individualistic, non-communalistic forms of religious practice. In the absence of deeper cultural shifts, the pattern suggests that social or "engaged Buddhism" in the USA will remain quite limited in scope.

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