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Immigrants to the Pure Land

The Modernization, Acculturation, and Globalization of Shin

Michihiro Ama

Publication Year: 2011

Religious acculturation is typically seen as a one-way process: The dominant religious culture imposes certain behavioral patterns, ethical standards, social values, and organizational and legal requirements onto the immigrant religious tradition. In this view, American society is the active partner in the relationship, while the newly introduced tradition is the passive recipient being changed. Michihiro Ama’s investigation of the early period of Jodo Shinshu in Hawai‘i and the United States sets a new standard for investigating the processes of religious acculturation and a radically new way of thinking about these processes.

Most studies of American religious history are conceptually grounded in a European perspectival position, regarding the U.S. as a continuation of trends and historical events that begin in Europe. Only recently have scholars begun to shift their perspectival locus to Asia. Ama’s use of materials spans the Pacific as he draws on never-before-studied archival works in Japan as well as the U.S. More important, Ama locates immigrant Jodo Shinshu at the interface of two expansionist nations. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, both Japan and the U.S. were extending their realms of influence into the Pacific, where they came into contact—and eventually conflict—with one another. Jodo Shinshu in Hawai‘i and California was altered in relation to a changing Japan just as it was responding to changes in the U.S. Because Jodo Shinshu’s institutional history in the U.S. and the Pacific occurs at a contested interface, Ama defines its acculturation as a dual process of both "Japanization" and "Americanization."

Immigrants to the Pure Land explores in detail the activities of individual Shin Buddhist ministers responsible for making specific decisions regarding the practice of Jodo Shinshu in local sanghas. By focusing so closely, Ama reveals the contestation of immigrant communities faced with discrimination and exploitation in their new homes and with changing messages from Japan. The strategies employed, whether accommodation to the dominant religious culture or assertion of identity, uncover the history of an American church in the making.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Pure Land Buddhist Studies


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p. v

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p. vii

The Pure Land Buddhist Studies Series was established to make available to scholars a wide variety of research on Pure Land Buddhism, an integral part of the Buddhist tradition. Originating in India as part of the diffuse developments leading to the formation of Mahayana, Pure Land Buddhism has spread throughout the Buddhist cosmopolis. Topically, the series...

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pp. ix-xi

I am grateful to countless people for their support of this study. Withoutthe Shinshū Ōtani-ha Fellowship for Pure Land Studies, concentrated effort on my research and writing would have been much more difficult; I am most grateful to the Higashi Honganji. I also thank the Humanities Center and the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures,...

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Translation of Terms

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pp. xiii-xiv

In translating, I have used certain words interchangeably. First, following normal convention, the category “Shin Buddhism” denotes the Jōdo Shinshū tradition of Japanese Buddhism. Although the creation of such an English designation is unclear, “Shin Buddhism” seems to have appeared in the writings of D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) and Gesshō Sasaki (1875–1926),...

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pp. 3-13

n his way to San Francisco in 1899, Shūe Sonoda, later to become the first superintendent of the Buddhist Mission of North America (BMNA), expressed to his father-in-law his anxiety about leaving his family behind and his determination to transmit Shin Buddhism in the New World. One year earlier, Hōni Satomi had moved to Honolulu...

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Chapter One The Modern Development of Shin Buddhism

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pp. 14-30

The Shin Buddhist response to modernity undertaken by the two Honganjis is worth examining for several reasons. In 1559, the head temple of Honganji achieved the rank of monzeki, which denotes a temple recognized by the emperor, imperial family, or an aristocrat.1 By the sixteenth century, this temple complex had grown into “a formidable religious and political force” and...

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Chapter Two Changes in Organizational Style

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pp. 31-58

The eastward transmission of Shin Buddhism commenced at the turn of the twentieth century. The Nishi Honganji initiated a full-scale campaign in North America after certain individuals laid the foundations of religious activities. These preliminary events, however, set a trajectory of propagation that resulted in different approaches in Hawaii and on the mainland. First, there were several Shin priests in Hawaii who had privately followed a large number...

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Chapter Three The Development of Shin Buddhist Ministries in North America

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pp. 59-86

The Americanization and Japanization of the Honpa Honganji Mission of Hawaii (HHMH) and the Buddhist Mission of North America (BMNA) are coupled with the expansion of their ministries. Their structural features reflected the spiritual concerns of the Issei, Nisei, and Caucasian ministers, who simultaneously maintained and transformed the teachings, practices, ordinations...

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Chapter Four The Transformation of Shin Buddhist Rituals and Architecture

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pp. 87-109

Victor Turner defines the performance of ritual as “distinctive phases in the social process, whereby groups and individuals adjust to internal changes and adapt to their external environment.”1 Issei Shin ministers at first practiced the ritual protocol prescribed by their head temple in Kyoto. Previous studies have said that Buddhist rituals became Protestantized...

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Chapter Five Shin Buddhist Doctrine Reconstructed

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pp. 110-144

Changes in organizational style and rituals correspond to the rethinking of Shinran’s teaching in North America. The reinterpretation o fShin doctrine was triggered by theological challenges from Christianity,interaction with Buddhists from other traditions, and democratic principles in the United States. In the prewar period, the two branches of the...

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Chapter Six A History of the Higashi Honganji in North America

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pp. 145-167

The Higashi Honganji propagation is historically important, as it illustrates simultaneous competition and cooperation between the two branches of the Honganji in North America. The Nishi Honganji and the Higashi Honganji are comparable in terms of size and membership in Japan, but the scale of the Higashi propagation in North America has always been smaller than that of the Nishi. In 1933 and 1934...

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Chapter Seven Local and Translocal Activities of Issei Shin Buddhist Ministers

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pp. 168-188

The acculturation of Shin Buddhism occurred in relation to the development of its organizations in Hawaii and on the mainland. In both regions, changes in organizational style, rituals, and doctrine reflected the processes of Japanization and Americanization, albeit on different levels. This chapter aims to go beyond the organizational settings and examine the sociopolitical implications...

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Conclusion Rethinking Acculturation in the Postmodern World

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pp. 189-209

During the first half of the twentieth century, Japanese Buddhism established religious frontiers in three places. The present work is intended to contribute to the study of the religious frontier that emerged in North America, where Shin Buddhism became an interstitial religion despite its clergy’s efforts to promote the buddhadharma eastward (bukkyō tōzen), and discusses how the modernization...


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pp. 195-268


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pp. 269-298


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pp. 299-311

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861049
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834388

Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Pure Land Buddhist Studies
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OCLC Number: 768354781
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Immigrants to the Pure Land

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Subject Headings

  • Shin (Sect) -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Shin (Sect) -- Hawaii -- History -- 20th century.
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