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Seeking the Truth, Spiritual and Political: Japanese American Community Building through Engaged Ethnic Buddhism


  • Masumi Izumi


This essay documents the history of the Senshin Buddhist Temple in South Central Los Angeles, a Japanese American temple belonging to the Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land) School. In the United States, ethnic Buddhists are generally perceived as socially conservative and politically passive, while convert Buddhists are known to be active in peace movements and social activism. The essay analyzes the reforms Senshin members introduced to the temple’s religious rituals and elucidates the development of new cultural activities and art forms, which not only contributed to the emergence of vernacular ethnic art and music, but also to the construction of a community of socially engaged Japanese American Buddhists. By opening their temple to members of local minority communities, Senshin Buddhists formed artistic and political coalitions with other peoples of color, harboring subaltern cultural activism, which transgressed national, racial, and religious borders, and defied hegemonic racial, gender, and class hierarchies.

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