Buddhism in America: Global Religion, Local Contexts by Scott A. Mitchell
Buddhism in America provides an ambitious historical overview of Buddhism in the United States (not the Americas). Most readers will find this book to be a well-written and engaging source of new information and insights.
The content is what one would expect in a good undergraduate text. Section One, "Histories," starts with a highly compressed, clear presentation of the Buddha's life, his teaching, and the early Buddhist [End Page 124] movement, followed by a précis of Buddhist history and doctrinal developments. Section Two, "Traditions," outlines the development of the main traditions within the modern construct "Buddhism." The third and final section of the book considers Buddhist art, Buddhist identities, socially and environmentally engaged Buddhism in the United States, and the global context of American Buddhism. Mitchell briefly addresses the difficulties inherent in determining when nominally Buddhist groups have strayed far enough beyond the (loosely demarcated) mainstream to be considered new religious movements.
Though the subject matter of the text is restricted, the author still faces huge content challenges. Mitchell employs Thomas Tweed's translocal analysis as a framework to approach the multiple strands of converging and diverging cultures, practices, and beliefs that, in aggregate, make up an evolving construct that is both "American" and "Buddhist." This methodology facilitates the author's historical analysis of the roles played by colonialism, orientalism, romanticism, modernism, Transcendentalism, immigration patterns, countercultural movements, and more, in shaping both majority culture perceptions of Buddhism and Asian Buddhists' ongoing reconfigurations of their own traditions. In the later chapters, Mitchell employs feminist and queer theories to examine the intersections of race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation that are crucial to the ways in which Americans create their Buddhist identities.
Each chapter concludes with several discussion questions and suggestions for further reading. Select URLs for helpful internet resources are provided in the chapter notes at the back of the book. Mitchell provides a useful glossary of Buddhist terms in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Tibetan (including diacritical marks, which are not given in the text), along with an extensive bibliography and index. The black and white photos, maps, and charts are well chosen and effective.
Unlike some textbooks, Buddhism in America offers both excellent content and a methodologically astute analysis. Despite the sophistication of the analytical methods, the book is written in clear language that most students are likely to understand. Undergraduates, graduate students, general readers, and non-specialists will all find the book engaging and informative.