American Buddhism : a sociological perspective.
This dissertation examines the relationship between Buddhism and the sociology of religion, by examining the ways in which the study of American Buddhism can inform the theories of the sociology of religion, as well as applying the techniques and methodologies of sociology to this particular topic. Chapter 1 describes the difficulties associated with empirically studying American Buddhism, reviews current surveys on the subject, and suggests future avenues of research. Chapter 2 explores a central debate within the study of American Buddhism, which is how best to distinguish the distinctive forms the religion takes. Employing techniques similar to those used by Steensland et al. (2000) to distinguish among forms of American religions, this paper assesses the utility of three of the primary typologies. Findings indicate that school of Buddhism and cultural vs. convert status are important separations within American Buddhism, in regards to spiritual beliefs and behaviors, views on morality, and trust of others. Chapter 3 examines the differences in political views among immigrants who maintain a religion that is foreign to their new residence and converts to the religion in the new country. Findings indicate that converts are generally more liberal than cultural Buddhists, but not on all political issues. Chapter 4 looks at the ways in which globalization and modernization have led to a number of changes in Buddhism. This study tests the hypothesis that religious doctrinal differences are relative and the borders between religious organizations are malleable. This study examines the use of websites by American Buddhists, both to determine the networks they are part of and what content they use. Consequences for studying Buddhism and future avenues of research involving the internet are discussed. Chapter 5 examines the effects of congregational diversity on growth. Using the United States Congregational Life Surveys (USCLS), findings indicate that neither homogeneity nor heterogeneity is related to growth in religious organizations. To the contrary, among 576 statistical models, only 8 show significant associations, implying that neither shared beliefs nor shared behaviors are associated with the size or changing size of a congregation.