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Buddhism, Race, and American Belonging: An Asian American View

Online Program
Dates: Mar 21, 2021

Instructor(s): Duncan Ryūken Williams, Chenxing Han

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Course Description:

Where do we find home? How do we become free together? How do we find a place of refuge and belonging in a world often intent on exclusion? These have been enduring questions for American Buddhists of Asian ancestry since the 1850s when the first Buddhist temples were built in the U.S. by immigrants and their descendants. Today, people of Asian heritage make up more than two-thirds of American Buddhists. Yet the histories and perspectives of Asian American Buddhists remain marginalized in many sanghas. What can we learn from Buddhist Asian American insights about navigating the complexities of identity and building an American Sangha that values multiplicity over singularity, hybridity over purity, and inclusivity over exclusivity? How does centering Asian American voices expand our understandings of race, identity, and belonging in American Buddhism? What can Buddhists of all backgrounds learn from Asian American Buddhists when it comes to building multiracial coalitions and inclusive communities? 

In dialogue with each other and with participants, Duncan Ryūken Williams and Chenxing Han will draw from their respective books, American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War (Harvard University Press, 2019) and Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists (North Atlantic Books, 2021). These groundbreaking works form the basis for a timely conversation on buried histories, trailblazing contributions, race and identity, belonging and refuge. We welcome participants of all social identities to join us.

    About the Instructor(s):
  • Duncan Ryūken Williams was ordained as a Soto Zen Buddhist priest at Kotakuji Temple (Nagano, Japan) in 1993. He served as a Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in 2000. Currently, he is Professor in and the Chair of the USC School of Religion and Director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture in Los Angeles. Previously, he held the Ito Distinguished Chair of Japanese Buddhism at UC Berkeley and served as the Director of Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies.

  • Chenxing Han is the author of the widely reviewed Be the Refuge: Raising theVoices of Asian American Buddhists (2021) and one long listening: a memoir of grief, friendship, and spiritual care (2023), both with North Atlantic Books. She is a regular contributor to Lion’s Roar, Tricycle, Buddhadharma, and other publications, and a frequent speaker and workshop leader at schools, universities, and Buddhist communities around the nation. Chenxing holds a BA from Stanford University, an MA in Buddhist Studies from the Graduate Theological Union, and a certificate in Buddhist chaplaincy from the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California. She is a co-teacher of Listening to the Buddhists in our Backyard at Phillips Academy Andover and a co-organizer of May We Gather: A National Buddhist Memorial for Asian American Ancestors.