2005 Seminars

2005 Seminar Series







Glenys Eddy, USYD

The Nature of Religious Commitment in Two Styles of Western Buddhism

This paper discusses findings from recent fieldwork with two local Western Buddhist groups, the Theravadin Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre, and the Gelugpa Tibetan Vajrayana Institute, conducted as part of Glenys’s doctoral thesis. Situated in the area of conversion studies, it explores how and why western practitioners engage with and internalize the teachings and practices of Buddhism. Historically, conversion studies have fallen within the domains of the Sociology and Psychology of Religion, which tend to emphasize sociological and psychological concerns above the phenomenological, historical, and comparative concerns of the discipline of Religious Studies.

With this view in mind, the thesis explores the role of doctrine, practice, and experience in the processes of learning, self-transformation, and commitment, based on observations and interpretations of data obtained from participant observation and interview. The significant findings of the study address how specific Buddhist doctrines and practices fulfill a set of western needs: an interpretive framework for personal experience that renders it meaningful, the need for an ethical framework that is both philosophical and practical, an orientation toward, and a view of the self that acts in accord with one’s philosophical and ethical outlook, and the need for religious practice that is personally transforming. In short, the paper addresses a range of issues found to affect the processes of religious exploration, interpretation of experience, and religious commitment for the practitioners concerned.