Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History

Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History

Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History

Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History


Asian Religions in America presents the breadth and depth of the American encounter with Asian religions through a wide range of documents -- written and visual, from both elite and popular culture -- dating from 1788 to the present. Selections discuss Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shinto, Confucianism, and Taoism and their places in the American religious landscape. Entries are divided into four chronological periods: before 1840, 18401924, 1924-1965, and 1965 to the present The editors have provided an introduction that gives a brief overview of the key beliefs and practices of the major Asian religious traditions.


All books are collaborations among authors, living and dead. Dead authors live on not only in their works, but also in the works of others. Their words transmigrate into epigrams, their books into footnotes, their arguments into occasions for the arguments of others. Sometimes their words find new life in documentary histories like this one, where they mingle with the words of the living, and conspire once again to create a book.

Asian religions in America did not yet exist as a subfield when we met as graduate students at Harvard University in the 1980s. But when each of us cast about for a dissertation topic and reeled in American Buddhism, we were not without collaborators. As far back as the 1930s, Frederic Carpenter wrote Emerson and Asia,Arthur Christy The Orient in American Transcendentalism, and Wendell Thomas Hinduism Invades America (which isn't quite as nasty as it sounds). The investigation of Asian religions in America, such as it was, lay dormant until the 1960s, when the eastward turn in American religion and culture prompted a few sociologists and historians to explore the antecedents. More synthetic studies-- Carl T. Jackson The Oriental Religions and American Thought (1981) and Rick Fields's How the Swans Came to the Lake (1981)--appeared shortly before we began our graduate work, and shortly thereafter scholars like John Fenton, Raymond Brady Williams, and others produced works devoted to the religious experiences of the new immigrants from Asia.

Today Asian religions in America is emerging as a subfield inside both American religious history and comparative religion. There are now dozens of scholars bringing the insights of history, sociology, anthropology, art history, women's studies, area studies, literary criticism, cultural geography, and religious studies to bear on the subject, which mischievously refuses to respect traditional disciplinary boundaries. Books have appeared on California's Sikhs, American Vedanta, world religions in Atlanta, women in American Buddhism, Asian Americans and the Supreme Court, Chinese-American literature, Asian philosophy in American art, and Buddhism in American poetry. As a result, it is becoming difficult to write a textbook on either religion in America or the religions of Asia without acknowledging that Asian religious traditions aren't just for Asians (or Asia) any more.

In a Supreme Court decision excerpted in this book, Justice William Douglas wrote that the United States was no longer merely a nation of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. It had become as well "a nation of Buddhists, Confucianists . . .

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