Fieldwork on East Asian Buddhism

Toward a Person-Centered Approach


  • Gareth Fisher Syracuse University



Buddhism, China, ethnographic writing, Japan, person-centered ethnography


Recent interest in the contemporary practice of Buddhism in East Asia has led scholars of religion to undertake firsthand fieldwork among religious professionals and lay practitioners. Using three recent studies as examples, this paper argues that scholars of religion and Buddhism sometimes fail to maximize the potential of ethnographic fieldwork due to their focus on updating genealogies of Buddhist institutions. Drawing from a field-based study of lay Buddhists in contemporary Beijing, this paper advocates a “person-centered approach” that examines lay practitioners less as participants within a connected, institutionally-recognized narrative of Buddhism’s evolution in China and more as persons who use the social space of temples to find their place within a rapidly changing world, often in very different ways


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Author Biography

Gareth Fisher, Syracuse University

Gareth Fisher holds a PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of Virginia. His research focuses on residents of Beijing who have recently converted to Buddhism as lay practitioners following the retreat of a socialist master narrative in contemporary China. He is currently Assistant Professor of Religion and Anthropology at Syracuse University.


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How to Cite

Fisher, G. (2011). Fieldwork on East Asian Buddhism: Toward a Person-Centered Approach. Fieldwork in Religion, 5(2), 236–250.