Fieldwork on East Asian Buddhism
Toward a Person-Centered Approach
Keywords: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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