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Global, transnational and ethnic Zen Buddhism in a Hawaiian diaspora context

Jørn Borup (Associate Professor, Section for Religious Studies)

Buddhism as a socially and culturally significant lived religion has become part of the canonized container of comme il faut conventional objects within the academic study of religion.  In recent years, also migration studies have found overlapping empirical, theoretical and methodological interests, and concepts such as diaspora, migration, transnationalism and ethnicity have become important also in the study of global Buddhism.

Drawing on the insights from such scholarly fields as well as placing it in continuation of previous research experience, the present project investigates Zen Buddhism as a living tradition in Hawaii.

Hawai’i is a location between East and West with a long migrant history and tradition for religious pluralism. The Hawaii’an islands also have many different versions and representations of Buddhism, also of the typologically distinct “two Buddhisms”; ethnic and convert Buddhism.  The Japanese have been there for now five generations, being a migrant community whose identity as Japanese-Americans challenges concepts and bounded categories such as “diaspora”, ethnicity, race, culture and religion. Just as it was the case already in the 1920s where Hawaii had become a laboratory of race and immigrant assimilation, today it is still an obvious place to study as an empirical object in itself, as well as a setting with which to ask more general questions related to multi-culture, -ethnicity and -religiosity.

One objective therefore is to investigate whether hybridization or segregation and the typological pair of the “two Buddhisms” are relevant in the Hawaiian context, and especially how and to what extent Buddhism is “ethnicized” or ethnicity “Buddhicized” among Japanese-Americans related to these temples/centers. How and to which extent does Buddhism play a significant role in developing spiritual practices and ideas within and outside the Japanese Asian contexts? Are there relationships between “spiritual Buddhism” and “cultural Buddhism”, are there parallel and or hybrid developments in engagement and relevance in the local communities?