Journal article

Domesticating Buddha: Making a place for Japanese Buddhist altars (butsudan) in Western homes

Hannah Gould

Material Religion: the journal of objects, art and belief | Taylor & Francis (Routledge) | Published : 2019


This paper explores how white, Western followers of Japanese Buddhist schools (primarily Sōka Gakkai) practice Buddhism through acts of purchasing, decorating, and positioning altars (butsudan) in the space of their homes. Drawing on a pilot ethnographic study of altar practice, I detail the oft-overlooked dimension of becoming and being Buddhist that is material consumption. Western consumption of Buddhist popular culture is often critiqued as aesthetically driven and Orientalist. However, aesthetics, “Japanese-ness,” and ease of use are often not the only or primary concerns when crafting an altar. Rather, altar-making can be a continuous process involving significant deliberation, DIY, an..

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University of Melbourne Researchers


Funding Acknowledgements

This research is supported by The Rae and Edith Bennet Foundation, The Australian Research Training Program, and The Japan Foundation. I thank Dr. Matthew Mitchell and Professor Tamara Kohn for their comments on early drafts. I am further indebted to the anonymous reviewers and my informants for their generous feedback.