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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
49 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Like it or not, Western Buddhism is head- ing into the cultural mainstream, and it may well be a rough ride. Although the popula- tion of American Buddhists has been growing rapidly for decades, to this point Buddhism has remained something of a stealth religion, virtually invisible to most people outside our cosmopolitan coastal enclaves. it has, for example, become commonplace for politi- cians to include islam in their rhetoric about American cultural diversity, while Buddhism is seldom given a mention, though by even the most conservative estimates there are almost twice as many Buddhists as Muslims in the United States. this invisibility, however, is unlikely to continue, both because of Buddhism’s rapid growth in the West, and its status as one of the world’s major religions. While many Western Buddhists may welcome this change, it also raises a number of critical questions: What will the emerging public face of Western Buddhism look like? Does it matter? And if so, what should Buddhists do to help shape their public image? The Face of Western Buddhism according to the latest research, Buddhism is one of the fastest-growing religions in the united states. sociologist James Coleman looks at the emerging Buddhist population and how we can help shape Buddhism’s public image. Buddhism Comes to the West Until the end of World War ii, it seemed that globalization meant Westernization as a seemly irresistible tide of industrial devel- opment and consumerism spread Western culture around the world. But since then a countercurrent has been gaining strength. the economic transformation of Japan, and then China and the smaller Asian powers, began to pose the first serious challenge to Western economic domination, and eastern religions and philosophies grew increasingly influential in the West. the process of globalization encouraged the movement of people as well as ideas, bringing a host of immigrants from Buddhist countries to the West. At one time, these Buddhists, who tend to follow traditional Asian practices, were the largest group of American Buddhists. they are now, however, a distinct minority in the Buddhist commu- nity. According to the Pew Foundation’s 2007 U.S. religious Landscape Survey, about 27 percent of American Buddhists were them- selves raised as Buddhists. this means that