Author

Angie Danyluk

Date of Award

8-2002

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Anthropology

Supervisor

Professor Petra Rethmann

Abstract

The development of Buddhism in the West as a vital and viable religious path is currently in process. Buddhism has become increasingly visible in mainstream popular culture, and multiple images and conceptions of Buddhism and Buddhists are relatively common. As Buddhism becomes more personally, philosophically, and spiritually relevant to an increasing number of Westerners, to ask the question, "Who are Buddhists?" in the West elicits responses that may be complex, nuanced, and even contradictory. This research explores the ambiguities and the assumptions surrounding popular and scholastic understandings of "Western Buddhists" in Canada.

Focusing on narrative accounts of men and women practising Tibetan Buddhism in Toronto, this thesis will examine the reasons and motivations underlying the contemporary interest in Buddhism. Further, I argue that these reasons and motivations are themselves influenced and shaped by the representation of Buddhism in the West as a textually based, genderless, and timeless tradition. I propose that within any response to the question "Who are Buddhists?" is a matrix of meaning, underpinned by a number of dualities in dynamic tensions between male and female, monastic and lay, the individual and the communal, doctrine and social reality, religion and spirituality, and Buddhist and non-Buddhist.

My research will help explicate the emergence of new religious ideas in Canada, and will contribute to the understanding of an emerging "Western" form of Buddhism as the tradition struggles to become increasingly active in Western socio-cultural contexts. This thesis is one of the first ethnographic accounts of the everyday relgious lives of "Western Buddhists" in which participants have an active voice in the research process. It is also one of the few accounts of Buddhism in the West to come out of Canada, and could provide the basis for more nuanced investigations of the emergence of a "Western Buddhism" in general.

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