Indigenizing or Adapting? Importing Buddhism into a Settler-colonial Society

Sally McAra


In this paper I problematize the phrase "indigenization of Buddhism" (Spuler 2003, cf. Baumann 1997) through an investigation of a Buddhist project in a settler-colonial society. An international organization called the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) is constructing a forty-five-meter high stupa in rural Australia with the intention "to provide a refuge of peace and serenity for all." In 2003, a woman of Aboriginal descent met with the stupa developers to express her concern about the project. While her complaint does not represent local Aboriginal views about the stupa (other Aboriginal groups expressed support for it), it illustrates how in settler-colonial societies, Buddhist cultural imports that mark the land can have unexpected implications for indigenous people. This paper offers a glimpse of the multi-layered power relations that form the often invisible backdrop to the establishment of Buddhism in settler-colonial societies and suggests that we need to find terms other than "indigenization" when analyzing this.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Sally McAra

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