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This paper, a revised and stripped down version of Chapter 3 of the dissertation, was presented at the XVth Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies on June 26, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. (And, actually, the revised-revised version I actually read was edited down another ten pages. Hope it made sense live!)
Abstract: The academic study of American Buddhism assumes the tradition to be an essentially antinomian and democratic religion devoid of ritual, assumptions that empirical evidence often contradicts. This paper documents the ritual practice of the dharma talk in two California communities exploring how this practice serves as a way to meaningfully express memberâ€™s identities as Buddhists within socially constructed Buddhist communities. Moreover, this study suggests that American Buddhist practice is better described as egalitarian, not democratic. While American Buddhists have a half-realized spirit of political democracy, spiritual authority remains in the hands of but a few recognized authority figures.
© 2008 by Scott A. Mitchell