IBS Symposium Generates New Conversations

M. Editor  |  May 8, 2017

On Friday, April 14, nearly fifty Buddhist scholars, teachers, and activists convened at the Jodo Shinshu Center for a much-anticipated IBS symposium on “Interdependence/Intersectionality: Marginalization, Oppression, and American Buddhism,” to discuss issues of marginalization and oppression related to race, gender, and sexuality both inside and outside American Buddhist communities both historically and at the present. The event was sponsored in part by BDK America.

Dr. Scott Mitchell, Dean of Students and Faculty Affairs, provided opening remarks. Dr. Daijaku Kinst, IBS Core Faculty, introduced the speakers and moderated a panel discussion and Q&A session with audience members.

Three speakers shared a variety of scholarly perspectives as well as personal commentary, addressing questions which included:

  • How did the racialization of Japanese American Buddhists relate to World War II internment?
  • How are Asian and white Buddhist communities in conversation or at odds?
  • How have new Buddhist communities developed or responded to historical or contemporary exclusion related to gender or sexual orientation?
  • How might Buddhists respond to the current US political climate?

Funie Hsu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of American Studies, San Jose State University, made the first presentation, titled, “World War II Incarceration and the Racialization of Japanese American and Asian American Buddhists,” which highlighted points from her thought-provoking article, “We’ve Been Here All Along,” published by Lion’s Roar.

As Lion’s Roar describes in their introduction to her article:

Funie Hsu says it’s time we recognize the contributions of Asian American Buddhists and address the racism and cultural appropriation that marginalizes their ongoing role in transmitting the dharma in the West.

Natalie Quli, Research Fellow at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, presented on “The Disempowering Rhetoric of Authenticity,” and provided a broad, historical view of some of the social, cultural, and religious forces and dynamics which contributed to ‘disempowering’ Buddhists of Asian descent, albeit unintentionally and unconsciously.

Ann Gleig, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Central Florida presented her paper on “Queering Buddhism or Buddhist De-Queering? LGBTQI Buddhism, Intersectionality and the Limits of Liberal Convert Buddhism.”  Her study of the East Bay Meditation Center, and groups like the Alphabet Sangha pointed to inspiring new models and approaches to building sanghas based on inclusion, valuing diversity at their core.

Rev. Harry Bridge, Resident Minister, Buddhist Church of Oakland shared his personal perspectives growing up as a person of Japanese and Caucasian background; as a musician, and as a Jodo Shinshu minister whose congregation is still largely based in the Japanese American community and located in a diverse urban center.

A lively Q&A session followed the presentations and the panel discussion generated momentum for ongoing dialogue. Engaging voices from academia, activism, and the community, the symposium provided a unique space for addressing vital questions for Buddhism today.