Americanized Buddhism and the Rise of the Individual-Experiential Religious Consciousness
Haverford College. Department of Sociology
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Drawing upon fieldwork conducted at two Buddhist centers in the Philadelphia area, I characterize the nature of religious commitment within Americanized Buddhism as part of a distinctly American transformation in religious thought, rather than a superficial modification of Asian Buddhist practice. This form of the religious commitment, the Individual-Experiential Religious Consciousness, is defined by the attributes of individualism, the primacy of experiential practice, and the universalization of religious validity, ritual, and access to religious truth. I claim that the Individual-Experiential Religious Consciousness is not limited to Buddhism, but is found in a variety of religious groups arising from the counterculture of the 1960s-70s. Utilizing Mark Gould’s theory of motivated religious disorder (Gould 2014), I analytically characterize the requisite causal conditions for the genesis of the Individual-Experiential Religious Consciousness, and aim to trace its institutionalization across religious movements. Drawing on a case study of Erhard Seminars Training, I argue that the Human Potential Movement and imported Zen of the 1960s and 70s were the first religious organizations to articulate this form of religiosity. Utilizing resource mobilization theory, I aim to articulate why the Individual-Experiential Religious Consciousness was first institutionalized in these movements. Lastly, by examining the organizational and religious composition of those early individual-experiential movements, I attempt to explain why they were superseded by the contemporary form of Americanized Buddhism.