Paths to Enlightenment: Constructing Buddhist Identities in Mainland China and the United States

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2018


Oxford University Press


How do national contexts influence the construction of religious identity in faith communities? In this article, I examine the construction of Buddhist identities in two similar ethnic Chinese Mahayana Buddhist temples but in distinct national contexts, one in mainland China and the other in the United States. While both are Chinese Mahayana Buddhist temples, they have distinctive temple-level cultures: a strict culture in China and a permissive culture in the United States. Individual-level cultural frameworks also differ. In mainland China, the Buddhists learn their religion dutifully while their U.S. counterparts critically explore religion inside and outside their temples. Relying on theories in cultural sociology, I argue that national contexts influence both individual-level cultural frameworks and temple-level group styles to produce different religious identities. This article has implications for future studies that examine how community-based religious identities vary according to national context.