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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
REVIEW | JUSTIN WHITAKER 117 For the nonspecialist reader, Gleig carefully explains the conditions of “post- modernity” as a reshaping, rather than a replacement of, “modernity.” In part, the shift from modern to postmodern signifies a movement arising around the 1970s, “marked by increasing globalization, the rapid development of new communica- tion and information technologies, the restructuring of capitalism, and the rise of consumer culture.” Likewise, in this period, North Americans have lost some faith in the grand narratives of modernity, namely those of science, reason, and social progress. Drawing from sociologist Paul Heelas, Gleig notes that postmodern religions can be characterized by their “intermingling of the religious and secular, a consumer approach in which religions are viewed as products and engagement is seen as a matter of personal choice, a willingness to combine high and low culture and draw from disparate frameworks of meaning, and an orientation toward pragmatism and relativity.” Heady as that may sound, readers need not worry about getting lost in the weeds of theory or jargon. The heart of the book consists of the voices of the dozens of Buddhists Gleig interviewed across North America, all painting a pic- ture of a lived religion struggling to be relevant to the lives of modern (or post- modern) Americans. Gleig catalogs the ways Buddhism has flourished in the last generation or so, including major Buddhist magazines, the blogosphere, podcasts, and increasing scholar–practitioner interactions. She also offers a brief history of major historical periods of Buddhism (canonical, tradi- tional, and modern) en route to what we see today. Understandably, much had to be left out. As such, the book cannot serve as a general survey of North American Buddhism. However, Gleig’s research offers carefully crafted excursions into the lives, words, and sanghas of many notable American Buddhists with specific attention to Zen and Theravada “convert” communities. American Dharma is a veritable who’s who of Buddhist scholars and practitio- ners, skillfully woven into conversation with each other on each of the covered topics. Gleig moves effortlessly from schol- arly findings to practitioners’ accounts, ensuring that the work never feels clinical or distant. In the section on mindfulness, she relies on the authoritative scholarly works of Eric Braun and Brook Schedneck for historical perspective, then lets the voices of advocates and critics speak for themselves. The tone of Gleig’s work is refreshingly even-handed, neither triumphalist nor dogmatically critical. Throughout, we are left with very little conclusion as to where things will go from here. And this is by design, as these debates and discussions are ongoing. In each case, however, the depth and complexity of contemporary American Buddhism are revealed. A recur- ring motif is that of struggle: the struggle of early American Buddhists with the con- ditions of modernity, the struggle to craft and then contain mindfulness, the struggle between confronting abuse and loyalty to teachers, the struggle of white Buddhists to wake up to the structures of racism operat- ing in their communities, and so on. At the heart of this struggle are the effects of the shift to postmodernism, which, as Gleig makes clear, presents both opportunities and dangers. For instance, while the potential for Buddhism’s most