Buddhism, pop-culture, and the homogenization of the Dharma

Download the file [PDF/4.7mbs; 27 pages]

Presented as part of a panel on Shin Buddhism in the west at the XIV Biennial meeting of the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies, this paper is a more reasoned, researched, and well-articulated version of some themes with which my long-time readers will be familiar: Orientalism, the dumbing-down of Buddhism, and the politics of representation.

I did not actually read this paper. Unfortunately, I was unable to get to Kyoto this year, but I understand that it was read by Henry Adams in my stead and that the panel was a success. Thanks to Daniel Friedrich for putting it all together.

This paper problematizes representations of Buddhism in (Western) pop-culture in two separate but related ways. First, I argue that these representations are little more than a continuation of a centuries-long project of defining the Oriental “other” in ways that make Asian culture safe and palatable for Western consumers. Second, by defining Buddhisms and Buddhists in non-threatening ways, these representations perpetuate certain stereotypes about Buddhism that do little to advance the needs of Buddhist communities and, ultimately, create the false notion that “all Buddhisms look alike.”

10 thoughts on “Buddhism, pop-culture, and the homogenization of the Dharma

  1. Scott,

    Quick note, the panel was Shin Buddhist Practices in the 20th and 21st centuries. We had two papers focused on Japan, and two on the “West.” I heard again today from a couple of folks that panel was really good. I am wondering if perhaps finding ways, such as this, to broaden the discussion beyond boarders may be a fruitful avenue. If you are interested in discussing this sometime let me know.

  2. @ daniel: Hi Daniel, thanks for the update. I’m glad the panel was such a success. Thanks for putting it all together. I’d love to talk more about ways we can broaden the reach of academic events like this. Shoot me an email when you have a chance.

    Thanks to all who’ve read this since I posted it — only yesterday! I’m always a little surprised when my dry academic prose finds success in the midst of this irreverent blog.

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  4. Hi Scott,

    This is a great paper! I often notice Buddhism used inappropriately in pop-culture and I’m glad its being addressed by scholars. Thanks for the post!

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