Getting Enlightened: A Comparative Study of Buddhist Temples in Mainland China and the US


Graduate Student, Rice University Department of Sociology

With the funding received from Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, I was able to hire two undergraduate research assistants in the Fall and Spring of 2017. I trained them in the areas of research ethics, research methodology, and the general background of sociological studies in Buddhism. Specifically, this training centers around the protection of respondents’ confidentiality, the rationale behind the practice of participant observation and interviews in qualitative research, the transcription and future data analysis process, and the background of a comparative study on Buddhism.

The undergraduate research assistants have transcribed 71 interviews and three context notes. Together with the 8 interviews[1] that I transcribed personally, all interviews in this study have been fully transcribed. The number of transcribed interviews exceeds the number that I originally proposed (49) because, as my fieldwork in the U.S.-based temple progressed, I was able to conduct more interviews with Buddhist practitioners than I initially expected. I asked my undergraduate research assistants to transcribe the newly conducted interviews, given that this portion of the data was an essential component of the comparison between Buddhist temples in mainland China and the U.S. Unfortunately, the semester ended before the undergraduate research assistants could transcribe more context notes. I will use my additional funding to hire undergraduate research assistants to transcribe the remaining context notes. Although, with the expenditure on student labor in transcription, I did not reimburse my domestic trips through the grant. I still did weekly visits to the US-based temple until December 2016. My regular visits provide me with important participant observational data.

With the transcription of the interviews and some context notes, I was able to analyze the data and produce manuscripts from my dissertation research. Projects from this research have been presented in national and international conferences, such as the 2016 Annual Meeting of Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) and the 2016 Annual Meeting of Society for the Social Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR). I also wrote two journal manuscripts about the construction of Buddhist identities and the intersection between Buddhism and gender, respectively. The first paper on the construction of Buddhist identity has received an invitation to revise and resubmit from the top sub-field journal, Sociology of Religion. The second paper on the intersection between gender and Buddhism has also received an invitation to revise and resubmit from a top interdisciplinary journal on gender, Gender & Society. Finally, I am currently working on a several-chapter book-format manuscript that will provide a comprehensive description of my dissertation results, and I have put together an overview of my findings that are relevant to our understandings about religious tolerance for Boniuk Institute.