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Keywords:

  • Buddhism;
  • westerners;
  • spirituality;
  • postmodern religion;
  • new age;
  • Australia

Abstract

There has been little dedicated sociological research on the appeal Buddhism holds for many individuals in the West. It is suggested that this absence reflects a current tendency within the discipline to highlight a new age approach to spiritual involvement and to overlook other optional styles of engagement. Such a pattern of study is concerning because the propensity to privilege the new age style would seem to be less an outcome of a coherent research agenda than a result of the currency that the idea of postmodern religion has come to assume in theoretical accounts of spiritual transformation in contemporary societies. Using data from a modest quantitative survey, the study investigates spiritual style among a sample of Australians who have developed an interest in Buddhist practice and belief. The results point to the prevalence of a traditional approach to involvement, whereby the individual decides to engage solely with Buddhism for the long duration. Given its possession of these qualities, the research goes on to examine the social patterning of spiritual commitment. The findings suggest that comprehending the social restrictions to any kind of involvement is a more pressing sociological question than explaining social divergences among the engaged.