Buddhist immigrants are downplaying the ethnic elements of their faith and stressing its affinity to modernity and science in order to counteract the widespread conversions to Christianity in their community.
This change of emphasis and strategy is most apparent among Taiwanese Buddhists in the U.S, according to researcher Carolyn Chen of Northwestern University. Chen delivered a paper on this development at the early August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Montreal attended byRW. Chen notes that just as the majority of Taiwanese convert to Christianity after they arrive in the U.S., most Buddhists only begin practicing the religion after they immigrate.
She adds that the “true” Buddhism these immigrants take up is shorn of its Chinese ethnic elements and what are seen as “superstitious” practices and traditions. Rather, Taiwanese immigrants emphasize the scientific and rational nature of their faith, contrasting it with what they see as the Christian emphasis on tradition.
“They say Buddhism is the most scientific and wants you to think for yourself. Other religions require faith,” Chen said. She concludes that these immigrants are not using religion as a barrier against assimilation, but rather redefine the religion in a “cultural way to make it scientific and to differentiate themselves against Christian Taiwanese.”