Being Buddhist in a Christian World

Gender and Community in a Korean American Temple

Sharon A. Suh

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  • $45.00s hardcover (9780295983783) Add to Cart
  • Published: 2004
  • Subject Listing: Asian American Studies; History / Western History
  • Bibliographic information: 256 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: American Ethnic and Cultural Studies
  • Contents

Challenging Western notions of Buddhism as a self-effacing path to rebirth and enlightenment, Sharon Suh shows how first-generation Korean Americans at Sa Chal Temple in Los Angeles have applied Buddhist doctrines to the project of finding and knowing the self in everyday life. Buddhism, for these Buddhists, serves as a source of empowerment and as a wellspring of practical and spiritual relief from myriad everyday troubles.

Painful life events and circumstances - psychological stresses, marital discord, adjustments to immigrant life, racial and religious minority status - prompt a turning toward religion in an effort to build self-esteem. The process of coming to find and know the self initiates a transformation that, far from taking future rebirths as its focus, enables the self to enact change in the present. Oral histories from twenty-five men and twenty-five women also offer unexpected insights into distinctly male and female forms of Buddhist worship.

As a commentary on ethnicity, Being Buddhist in a Christian World challenges much of the existing literature in Asian American studies by placing religion at the center and illustrating its importance for shaping ethnic identity. Not only does Suh ask how Korean American identity might be grounded in religion, she goes on to examine the implications of this grounding when the religious tradition is considered to be socially marginal.
Sharon A. Suh is assistant professor of theology and religious studies at Seattle University.

"The first book on Korean American Buddhism, Being Buddhist in a Christian World is intelligently and knowledgeably conceived and smoothly executed. Its implications radiate out to other Korean Buddhist communities and individuals, as well as to Koreans who are Christians or Confucianists."
-Paul R. Spickard, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Being Buddhist in a Christian World demonstrates how the story of a particular temple is linked to issues of gender, ethnicity, and identity - all key themes in American religion, especially for immigrants to the United States. This will quickly become a standard work in several fields, including religious studies, Asian American studies, ethnic studies, American studies, and gender studies."
-David K. Yoo, Claremont McKenna College

1. Introduction
2. Finding and Knowing One's Mind
3. Sa Chal Context, Programs, and Demographics
4. Buddhist Practice and Self-Transformation
5. Buddhism - An Anchor in an Uncertain World and a Source of Independence
6. Finding Male Selves: Men's Religious Practices
7. Being Buddhist in a Christian World
8. Epilogue

"The book as a whole does a superb job of describing what it means to be a Buddhist at a Korean ethnic temple in the United States as an immigrant. It surely captures the 'lived experience' of these practitioners by expanding on the meaning of Buddhism in their lives and the influence of gender and community on their Buddhism."
-Korean Quarterly

"Suh has succeeded in crafting the story of a single Korean-American Buddhist temple (Sa Chal in Los Angeles) and drawing an engaging portrait of Buddhism lived 'on the ground' as a path to self-identity by Korean Americans..This is an important book for those interested in seeing the immediate social implications of religious practice for a community under pressure."
-Multicultural Review

"This book provides excellent insight into the personal practices and beliefs of a group of parishioners in a Korean temple in North America with lucidity, compassion, and objectivity. Encompassing the disciplines of sociology with Buddhist studies and Asian American studies, Suh has written a book that will be of value and interest to a variety of scholars and readers."
-The Journal of Religion