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Mann, Gurinder Singh, Numrich, Paul David, and Raymond B. Williams
Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America. A Short History.
Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press 2008. XII, 151 S. u. 8 Taf. m. Abb. 8° = Religion in American Life. Kart. £ 8,99. ISBN 978-0-19-533311-4.
Eugene V. Gallagher
A significant element of the religious diversity of North America is the practice of various forms of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism. In nine short but lucid chapters, the authors describe how those traditions first came to the North American continent, how they have grappled with adapting to new social and religious environments, and how they responded to the challenges both of passing religious knowledge on to second- and third-generation Asian-Americans and of interacting with non-Asians who have taken up the practice of Asian religions, particularly Buddhism, in increasing numbers.
The authors focus on laying out basic information in a way that should make it easily accessible to both beginning students in the study of religion and to general readers. They provide sixteen black and white photos, which help readers put faces to some of the groups that are discussed. They also enliven their exposition by the use of short, striking vignettes. For example, they use the stories of five friends at a suburban Chicago high school to illustrate the roles that Hindu temples can play in the U. S. Three chapters are devoted to each of the religious communities under consideration. Al-though they are not formally parallel, each set treats both the history of the arrival of the religious community in the U. S. and its contemporary diversity. In each case, the authors emphasize that a turning point for the history of each group was the change in U. S. immigration law in 1965 that substantially relaxed restrictions on immigration from Asia.
Although the authors do not offer a developed theoretical framework for the analysis and interpretation of their data, they make a number of helpful observations that could easily be extended and applied to other cases. In the introduction, for example, Paul Numrich examines in detail the complex implications of the metaphor of transplantation, which could be used to investigate any diasporic religious community. The authors also have a good eye for telling details, describing, for example, how some Japanese religious groups came to identify themselves as »churches« in an attempt to reduce antagonism in their host country. In addition, they make helpful distinctions between the religious careers of voluntary immigrants, who since 1965 have come to the U. S. with substantial education and marketable skills, and refugees, who have arrived in a strange land with minimal material support, not much education, and few skills that they can market.
Finally, the authors also clarify some of the ongoing challenges and consequences of adaptation that the three diasporic communities have experienced. They note, for example, that many Sikhs in North America are still in the process of identifying which parts of their cultural inheritance are essential to their new religious situation and which parts are more appropriately left behind in their region of origin, primarily the Punjab of India. A particularly poignant example of the challenge of separating the imperatives of religious commitment from cultural practice can be seen in the dilemmas encountered in dating and marriage by second- and third-generation Hindus in the U. S. The need to accept lay persons as leaders of ritual performances, rather than traditional religious specialists, is another change with which diasporic communities have had to come to grips.
In sum, this slim volume is a clear and engaging account of Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh religious communities in the U. S. Its lucid style, use of brief vivid stories, and analytical insights should make it attractive to students, general readers, and non-specialists alike.