In writings of Buddhism in the West, Vietnamese Buddhists have often been pigeonholed as bringing their Buddhism with them like baggage and replicating the practices of their native land. This paper problematizes this characterization by looking more closely at the way that Vietnamese Buddhism has been reconstructed in the diasporic context. I argue that many of the leading figures of this process were, in fact, heavily influenced by intra-Asian and Transpacific reformist trends and engaged in activist movements in southern Vietnam, rather than coming from “traditional’ Buddhist backgrounds. Furthermore, the orientations that they brought were the product of dialogues with other reform movements in Asia that started earlier in the nineteenth century and were, in turn, a result of the colonial encounter. Therefore, rather than a single transference from East to West, what actually took place was a multi-nodal and multidimensional conversation between Asian reformers from different countries and traditions, Western scholars, and Western converts to Buddhism. Consequently, what has been established in the West by Vietnamese is not simply an adaptation of Vietnamese traditional Buddhism to a Western context, but the creation of a new, invented tradition that we can call Vietnamese Transnational Buddhism.
A Reappraisal of Vietnamese Buddhism’s Status as “Ethnic”
Alexander Soucy is a Professor, and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada. He is the author of The Buddha Side: Gender, Power and Buddhist Practice in Vietnam, and co-editor of Wild Geese: Buddhism in Canada and Flowers on the Rock: Global and Local Buddhisms in Canada.
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Alexander Soucy; A Reappraisal of Vietnamese Buddhism’s Status as “Ethnic”. Journal of Vietnamese Studies 1 May 2017; 12 (2): 20–48. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jvs.2017.12.2.20
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