Ann Gleig’s American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity explores recent developments in American Buddhism.1 Her language is academic but simple and clear, with hardly any technical jargon; the book can be read by anyone with a basic understanding of Buddhism. Her treatment of controversies is admirably non-polemical, with even-handed (but colorful) presentation of multiple points of view on every issue.2
American Dharma may be important both for academics and for practitioners:
- For historians, her detailed ethnographic survey includes emerging groups and trends not covered in previous works.
- That survey may also be useful for individual practitioners who want to understand the changing lay of the land, and how our personal religious commitments may shift in response. Going well below the surface, it is not an enumeration of brands, but an exploration of fundamental themes: the new problems of meaning that various American Buddhisms address, and how.
- Theorists may find an interpretive framework to build on in Gleig’s analysis of these movements: the mixed extension and rejection of Buddhist modernism.
- Buddhist leaders, particularly those who hope to influence broader American culture—as Buddhism repeatedly has—would do well to think through the implications of Gleig’s analysis for their own work.
I care mostly about that last one. American Buddhism is at a turning point, and I want the people steering it to take what Gleig has to say seriously. This post is about why.
Because I’m extremely self-centered, I’ll also explain how her work relates to what I was trying to do with Vividness, and how it may influence what I may do with it later.