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Book: The Insider/Outsider Debate

Chapter: Chapter 15: When it Gets Crowded under the Umbrella: An Examination of Scholarly Categorization of Buddhist Communities in the United States

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27456


This essay critiques the existing binary categories applied to Buddhist communities in the United States, those of ethnic and convert. First, a short evaluation of the term ethnic is offered, followed by an in-depth analysis of the prevalent models of categorization in use by scholars of Religious Studies and Buddhist Studies. As a result of the shortcomings of the available models, this essay offers a new model for researching and writing about Buddhist communities in the U.S., culturally-informed Buddhisms. The goals of the culturally-informed Buddhisms model are: first, to create an adaptable and specific methodology and terminology for scholars to use when researching communities; second, an approach which accounts for change over time and space; third, to seek an end to the essentialised scholarly assumptions regarding the ethnic and racial heritages of community members; and finally, to re-orient the discussion to a nuanced accounting of the various cultural strands that have influenced and shaped the diverse Buddhist communities thriving in the United States. These goals in turn question the notion of a monolithic, homogeneous ‘Buddhism,’ which is reflected in the author’s use of Buddhisms.

Chapter Contributors

  • Claire Skriletz ( - cskriletz) 'Independent Scholar'