The significant growth of Unitarian-Universalist Buddhist (UUBU) groups bears witness to the eclectic approach of a segment of American Buddhism today, according to French researcher Molly Chatalic. She delivered a paper on UUBU groups at the 2007 conference of the CESNUR (Center for Studies of New Religions), which took place on June 7-9 at the University of Bordeaux, which RW attended. Unitarian Universalists have had for a long-time interest in Buddhism. Since 1995, Eastern religions – along with earth-centered traditions – are listed among spiritual sources for Unitarian Universalism.
A survey conducted by researchers from Ohio University suggests that 16.5 percent of Unitarian Universalists today tend to identify with Buddhism, more than with Christianity. This is not a surprise, Chatalic remarks, since most members of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) were not born in the group, but came to it while looking for a tolerant and open spiritual home.
There were 80 UUBU groups spread across 20 US states in 2004, 113 in 34 states in 2005, and 125 in 37 states in November, 2006. The diffusion is uneven: there are some states with a heavy concentration of UUBU groups, such as Massachusetts (18 groups) and California (11). UUBU groups allow participants to reconcile an interest in an Eastern tradition with membership in an established American denomination.
UUBU is not the only type of hybrid or “hyphenated” Buddhism in America (e.g. JUBU, i.e. Jewish Buddhists). However, some Unitarian Universalists expect UUBU to become the main form of liberal Buddhism within a few years. Despite the rapid development of UUBU, Chatalic doubts that such prospects will materialize, due to the strong liberal inclination of many other forms of Buddhism in the USA. A cover story on the Unitarian Universalist Buddhists in the denomination’s magazine UU World(Summer) notes that many Buddhist practitioners are drawn to the strong congregational life of the Unitarian tradition.
These congregations offers a form of community both for Buddhist seekers and their children that doesn’t yet exist in most Buddhist circles, writes Rick Heller. — By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
(UU World, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108; Website of the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship, www.uua.org/uubf/)