#BuddhistCultureWars: BuddhaBros, Alt-Right Dharma, and Snowflake Sanghas





American Buddhism, racism, racial justice, socially engaged Buddhism, right-wing Buddhism, Alt-Right Buddhism, The Culture Wars


While often associated with a liberal demographic, the increasing online visibility of rhetoric such as “snowflakes,” “politically correct,” “postmodern identity politics,” and “cultural Marxism” demonstrates the presence of right-wing sentiments and populations in American convert Buddhism. This article situates these sentiments largely as a reaction to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in these communities. We chart this backlash across a broad right-wing spectrum that spans from “reactionary centrism” to the alt-right. We illuminate the ways in which participants both de-legitimate DEI as political rather than Buddhist and naturalize their own position as Buddhist rather than political. Next, we show how American convert Buddhist lineages have become a site of the “culture wars,” longstanding clashes between religious conservatives and progressives, that are playing out in multiple contexts across the US. Finally, we locate these reactionary right-wing forms of American Buddhism in relationship to modern and postmodern forms of global Buddhism.

Author Biography

Ann Gleig, University of Central Florida

Ann Gleig is an Associate Professor of religion and cultural studies at the University of Central Florida.


ADL Center on Extremism. 2018. “When Women Are the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White Supremacy.” New York: Anti-Defamation League. https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/when-women-are-the-enemy-the-intersection-of-misogyny-and-white-supremacy.

Aikin, Scott F. 2019. “Deep Disagreement, the Dark Enlightenment, and the Rhetoric of the Red Pill.” Journal of Applied Philosophy 36 (3): 420–35. https://doi.org/10.1111/japp.12331.

“AltBuddhism.” 2020. Forum. Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/AltBuddhism/.

Anningson, Ryan. 2017. “Once the Buddha Was an Aryan: Race Sciences and the Domestication of Buddhism in North.” Journal of Religion & Culture 27 (1): 51–70.

Atwood, Haleigh. 2018. “Soto Zen Priests Discuss Diversity and Privilege at Biennial Gathering.” Lion’s Roar. https://www.lionsroar.com/soto-zen-buddhist-association-conference-examines-diversity-and-privilege/.

Balkwill, Stephanie. 2020. “Is Buddhism Apolitical?” Ten Thousand Things (blog). http://blog.shin-ibs.edu/is-buddhism-apolitical/.

Benesch, Oleg. 2016. “Reconsidering Zen, Samurai, and the Martial Arts.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 14 (17): 1–23.

Bodhi, ed. 2016. The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon. The Teachings of the Buddha. Somerville, MA: Wisdom.

“Brad Warner.” n.d. New Discourses (blog). Accessed December 6, 2020. https://newdiscourses.com/author/bradwarner/.

Brooks, Michael. 2020. Against the Web. Ridgefield: Zero Books.

Buchanan, Patrick Joseph. 1992. “Patrick Joseph Buchanan, ‘Culture War Speech: Address to the Republican National Convention’ (17 August 1992).” Voices of Democracy. https://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/buchanan-culture-war-speech-speech-text/.

Buddhadasa, Bhikkhu, and Donald K Swearer. 1993. Dhammic Socialism. Bangkok: Thai Inter-Religious Commission for Development.

Burgis, Ben, Matthew McManus, Conrad Hamilton, and Marion Trejo. 2020. Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson. Ridgefield: Zero Books.

Cheah, Joseph. 2011. Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coleman, James William. 2002. The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Collins, Cory. 2017. “What Is the ‘Alt-Right’?” Teaching Tolerance, Fall Issue. https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2017/what-is-the-altright.

Cutts, Eijun Linda Ruth, Rinso Ed Sattizahn, Fu Schroeder, Brian McCaffrey, and Shinchi Linda Galijan. 2018. “Leadership Statement Regarding Edward Brown.” San Francisco Zen Center (blog). https://blogs.sfzc.org/blog/2018/10/11/leadership-statement-regarding-edward-brown/.

DeMaioNewton, Emily. 2020. “A Gender-Diverse Sangha.” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/trans-buddhist-voices/.

Dharmakirti, Storm King, Kagyu, and Aura. 2019a. “This Podcast Respects U Wirathu.” Mp3. Right-Wing Dharma Squads. Accessed September 7, 2020.

Dharmakirti, Storm King, Kagyu, and Aura. 2019b. “Compassion.” Mp3. Right-Wing Dharma Squads. Accessed September 7, 2020a.

Dharmakirti, Storm King, Kagyu, and Aura. 2019c. “Teachers.” Mp3. Right-Wing Dharma Squads. Accessed September 7, 2020b.

Ellis, Carolyn, Tony E. Adams, and Arthur P. Bochner. 2010. “Autoethnography: An Overview.” Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung 12 (1). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-12.1.1589.

Fischel, Anne, Zoltan Grossman and Lin Nelson (2017). “Another Side of the Evergreen Story,” Huffpost https://www.huffpost.com/entry/evergreen-state-college-another-side_b_598cd293e4b090964295e8fc

Franz, Koun, Norman Fischer, and Greg Snyder. 2018. “Statement of Recognition and Repentance.” Soto Zen Buddhist Association. http://szba.org/wp-content/uploads/SZBA-Statement-of-Recognition-and-Repentance.pdf.

Fuller, Paul. 2018. “The Narratives of Ethnocentric Buddhist Identity.” Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religion (JBASR) 20 (September): 19–44. https://doi.org/10.18792/jbasr.v20i0.25.

Gajaweera, Nalika. 2020. “The Mothers of the Righteous Society: Lay Buddhist Women as Agents of the Sinhala Nationalist Imaginary.” Journal of Global Buddhism 21 (November): 187–204. https://doi.org/10.5281/4147502.

Gleig, Ann. 2019a. American Dharma: Buddhism beyond Modernity. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gleig, Ann. 2019b. “Undoing Whiteness in American Buddhist Modernism: Critical, Collective, and Contextual Turns.” In Buddhism and Whiteness, edited by George Yancy and Emily McRae, 21–42. London: Lexington Books.

Gleig 2020. “Buddhists and Racial Justice: A History.” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/buddhists-racial-justice/.

Halifax, Roshi Joan. 2020. “Good Trouble in Buddhism - Part 1.” Upaya Zen Center (blog). https://www.upaya.org/2020/09/good-trouble-in-buddhism-part-1/.

Hardcore Zen. 2018. Zen Safe Spaces. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3P4dHJkde8s.

Hartman, Andrew. 2019. A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hase, Craig Nicholas, James C. Meadows, and Stephanie L. Budge. 2019. “Inclusion and Exclusion in the White Space: An Investigation of the Experiences of People of Color in a Primarily White American Meditation Community.” Journal of Global Buddhism 20: 1–18. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3238227.

Hatch, Kaitlyn. 2020. “Expressions of Whiteness in Buddhism.” Tibetan Buddhism – Struggling With Diffi·Cult Issues (blog). July 24, 2020. https://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2020/07/24/expressions-of-whiteness-in-buddhism/.

Herf, Jeffrey. 2003. Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich. Repr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hine, Christine. 2017. “Ethnographies of Online Communities and Social Media: Modes, Varieties, Affordances.” In The SAGE Handbook of Online Research Methods, edited by Nigel Fielding, Raymond M Lee, and Grant Blank. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Huertas, Aaron. 2018. “We Need to Talk About Reactionary Centrists.” Medium. https://medium.com/s/story/we-need-to-talk-about-reactionary-centrists-f0e6f8c4d58.

Kachru, Sonam, 2019. “Ratnakīrti and the Extent of Inner Space: An Essay on Yogācāra and the

Threat of Genuine of Solipsism,” Sophia 58. 61-83.

Kozinets, Robert V. 1998. “On Netnography: Initial Reflections on Consumer Research Investigations of Cyberculture.” In NA- Advances in Consumer Research, 25:336–371. Association for Consumer Research.

Krempasky, Chance, Audrey Renson, and Finn Schubert. 2014. “Developing Trans* Competence: A Guide for Meditation and Retreat Centers.” Trans* Buddhists. Developing Trans* Competence in Buddhism (blog). https://transbuddhists.org/retreat-guide/about-the-guide/.

Lewis, Becca, and Alice Marwick. 2017. “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online.” Data & Society. https://datasociety.net/library/media-manipulation-and-disinfo-online/.

Lewis, Rebecca, and Alice Marwick. 2017. “Taking the Red Pill: Ideological Motivations for Spreading Online Disinformation.” In Understanding and Addressing the Disinformation Ecosystem, Philadelphia, December 15-16, 2017, 18–22. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication.

Limberg, Peter N, and Conor Barnes. 2018. “The Memetic Tribes Of Culture War 2.0.” The Stoa (blog). https://medium.com/s/world-wide-wtf/memetic-tribes-and-culture-war-2-0-14705c43f6bb.

Lindsay, James. n.d. “About New Discourses.” New Discourses (blog). https://newdiscourses.com/about/. Accessed December 3, 2020.

Manders, Kevin, and Elizabeth Marston, eds. 2019. Transcending: Trans Buddhist Voices. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Manuel, Zenju Earthlyn. 2015. The Way of Tenderness: Awakening through Race, Sexuality, and Gender. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

McClernan, Nancy. 2020. “James Lindsay and His Allies - More Shameless IDW Hypocrisy.” Pinkerite (blog). https://www.pinkerite.com/2020/08/james-lindsay-and-his-allies-more.html.

McCormack, Peter. 2019. “What Happened at Evergreen College.” Defiance. https://www.defiance.news/podcast/what-happened-at-evergreen-college-bret-weinstein.

McMahan, David L. 2008. The Making of Buddhist Modernism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McManus, Matt. 2017. “Post-Modern Conservatism.” The Philosophical Salon. https://thephilosophicalsalon.com/post-modern-conservatism/.

McManus, Matthew. 2020. What Is Post-Modern Conservatism. Ridgefield: Zero Books.

McNicholl, Adeana. 2020. “Shades of Whiteness.” Paper presented at the American Academy of Religion Conference, November 29-December 10. Virtual.

Mohler, Albert. 2020. “Critical Theory and the Cynical Transformation of Society: A Conversation with James Lindsay.” Albert Mohler: Thinking in Public. https://albertmohler.com/2020/09/02/james-lindsay.

Mounk, Yascha. 2018. “What an Audacious Hoax Reveals About Academia.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/new-sokal-hoax/572212/.

Nagle, Angela. 2017. Kill All Normies: The Online Culture Wars from Tumblr and 4chan to the Alt-Right and Trump. Winchester, UK ; Washington, USA: Zero Books.

Nattier, Jan. 1997. “Buddhism Comes to Main Street.” The Wilson Quarterly 21 (2): 72–80. https://doi.org/10.2307/40259451.

O’Brien, Titus. 2018a. “If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Protest His Privilege: Zen Gets Radical.” Dog Hair in My Tea (blog). https://doghairinmytea.com/2018/05/02/if-you-meet-the-buddha-on-the-road-protest-his-privilege/.

O’Brien, Titus. 2018b. “Just Sitting Is the Only Point.” Valley Dragon Zen Sangha (blog). https://web.archive.org/web/20181103204847/https://valleydragon.org/2018/10/01/just-sitting-is-the-only-point/.

Paññobhāsa, Bhikkhu. 2019. “Liberal Western Buddhism as a White Elitist Movement.” Blog. Politically Incorrect Dharma (blog). http://politicallyincorrectdharma.blogspot.com/2019/08/liberal-western-buddhism-as-white.html.

Pluckrose, Helen, and James Lindsay. 2020. Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity-and Why This Harms Everybody. First Edition. Durham: Pitchstone Publishing.

Prebish, Charles S. 1999. Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Prueitt, Catherine,“Karmic Imprints, Exclusion, and the Creation of the Worlds of Conventional Experience in Dharmakīrti’s Thought,” Sophia 57 (2018): 313–335;

Queen, Christopher S., Charles S. Prebish, and Damien Keown, eds. 2003. Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism. Critical Studies in Buddhism. New York: Routledge.

Rabinowitz, Aaron, and GW Rodriguez. n.d. “Reviewing Cynical Theories with Sam Hoadley-Brill.” Embrace the Void. https://voidpod.com/podcasts.

Reynolds, David (Paññobhāsa), and Brian Ruhe. 2020. On the Phenomenon of Right-Wing Western Buddhism. YouTube Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmj8aXmvXrk.

Rheaume, Jason Manu. 2020. “Why the Right.” Facebook. June 22, 2020. https://www.facebook.com/manu.jason.rheaume/posts/10222307552507207.

Robin, Corey. 2011. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rufo, Christopher F. 2020. “President Signs Executive Order Abolishing Critical Race Theory.” Blog. Christopher F. Rufo (blog). September 22, 2020. https://christopherrufo.com/president-signs-executive-order-abolishing-critical-race-theory/.

Ruhe, Brian. 2019. “Introducing Brian Ruhe.” Forum. Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/AltBuddhism/comments/ba0zg7/introducing_brian_ruhe/.

Sedgwick, Mark J, ed. 2019. Key Thinkers of the Radical Right: Behind the New Threat to Liberal Democracy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Senauke, Hozan Alan. 2020. “From Hearts to Hearts: An Interview with Ven. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni.” Buddhistdoor Global, 2004. https://www.buddhistdoor.net/features/from-hearts-to-hearts-an-interview-with-ven-dhammananda-bhikkhuni.

Sharf, Robert H. 1993. “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism.” History of Religions 33 (1): 1–43.

Sharpe, Matthew. 2020. “Is ‘cultural Marxism’ Really Taking over Universities? I Crunched Some Numbers to Find Out.” The Conversation. September 7, 2020. http://theconversation.com/is-cultural-marxism-really-taking-over-universities-i-crunched-some-numbers-to-find-out-139654.

Smith, Thomas. 2020. “James Lindsay’s ‘New Discourses’ Funded By Far Right Christian Nationalist.” Mp3. Serious Inquiries Only.

“Sovereign Nations.” n.d. Sovereign Nations. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://sovereignnations.com/.

“Speaking Truth To Social Justice Conference.” n.d. Sovereign Nations Events. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://events.sovereignnations.com/truth-social-justice-conference/.

Staudenmaier, Peter. 2020. “Racial Ideology between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: Julius Evola and the Aryan Myth, 1933–43.” Journal of Contemporary History 55 (3): 473–91. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022009419855428.

Tzohar, Roy. 2019. “The Buddhist Philosophical Conception of Intersubjectivity: an Introduction,” Sophia 58. 57-60.

ur_immeasurable. 2018. Practice Comes First: Buddhism, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson and Positive Masculinity (blog). Medium. https://medium.com/practicecomesfirst.

Victoria, Brian. 2013. “D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis.” The Asia-Pacific Journal 11 (43): 1–22.

Victoria, Brian. 2006. Zen at War. Second Edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield

Vitorino, Martin. 2019. “First Retreat for the Transgender Community.” InsightLA. November 13, 2019. https://insightla.org/sharing-trans-joy-at-the-first-residential-retreat-for-the-transgender-and-gender-expansive-community/.

Warner, Brad. 2018a. Zen Safe Spaces. YouTube Video. Hardcore Zen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3P4dHJkde8s.

Warner, Brad. 2018b. “Retreating from Judge Kavanaugh.” Hardcore Zen (blog). 2018. http://hardcorezen.info/retreating-from-judge-kavanaugh/6008.

Warner, Brad. 2018c. “Zentertainment Weakly.” Hardcore Zen (blog). 2018. http://hardcorezen.info/zentertainment-weakly/6037.

Warner, Brad. 2018d. “North American Soto Zen Buddhism Is Apparently Now a Far Left Marxist Political Movement.” Facebook. September 27, 2018. https://www.facebook.com/brad.warner.zen/posts/10155661405140969.

Warner, Brad. 2018e. “Inclusivity in Zen.” Hardcore Zen (blog). October 3, 2018. http://hardcorezen.info/inclusivity-in-zen/6012.

Warner, Brad. 2018f. “Challenging Cherished Beliefs,” Hardcore Zen (blog)


Warner, Brad. 2019a. “Collective Karma?” Hardcore Zen (blog). http://hardcorezen.info/collective-karma/6217.

Warner, Brad. 2019b. “MAGA Kid and American Buddhism.” Hardcore Zen (blog). http://hardcorezen.info/maga-kid-and-american-buddhism/6139.

Warner, Brad. 2019c. “Zen So White,” Hardcore Zen (blog).


Warner, Brad. 2019d. “Is American Buddhism Really “Too White?” Hardcore Zen (blog).


Warner, Brad. 2019e. “Jussie Smollet, Karma, Victimhood and Gill Women. Hardcore Zen (video) February 20. 2019. No Longer Available

Watts, Jonathan S., ed. 2009. Rethinking Karma: The Dharma of Social Justice. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

Weinstein, Bret. 2018. Bret Weinstein Testifies to Congress on The Evergreen State College Riots, Free Speech & Safe Spaces. YouTube Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRIKJCKWla4.

Weiss, Bari. 2018. “Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web.” The New York Times. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/opinion/intellectual-dark-web.html.

“What the ‘Grievance Studies’ Hoax Means.” 2018. Chronical of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/what-the-grievance-studies-hoax-means/.

Williams, Duncan Ryūken. 2005. The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Sōtō Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yancy, George, and Emily McRae, eds. 2019. Buddhism and Whiteness: Critical Reflections. Philosophy of Race. Lanham: Lexington Books.




How to Cite

Gleig, Ann, and Brenna Artinger. 2021. “#BuddhistCultureWars: BuddhaBros, Alt-Right Dharma, and Snowflake Sanghas”. Journal of Global Buddhism 22 (1):19-48. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4727561.