Towards a Syllabus on Asian Religions in America

Michael J. Altman

While everyone else I know in academia is wrapping up the semester and stuck in various circles of grading hell, I am looking ahead toward the fall semester. That is because I recently received an email reminding me that my book list for my fall classes was due soon. So, yesterday I began sketching out the basic outline for my upper level seminar on Asian Religions in America that I'll be teaching down at the University of Alabama in the fall. What I have so far is a very broad outline of what I want to cover with some books plugged in:

I. Early Encounters

Michael J. Altman, Imagining Hindus: India and Religion in Nineteenth Century America (manuscript)

Thomas A. Tweed, The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912 

II. World's Parliament of Religions

Richard Hughes Seager, The World's Parliament of Religion: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893

III. The 20th Century: Immigration, Conversion, and Americanization

Richard Hughes Seager, Buddhism in America

Vasudha Narayanan, "Hinduism in America" in The Cambridge History of Religions in America, Vol. III 1945-Present, Stephen J. Stein ed.

Vasudha Narayanan, "Hinduism in Pittsburgh: Creating the South Indian "Hindu" Experience in the United States" and Sitansu S. Chakravarti "A Diasporic Hindu Creed: Some Basic Features of Hinduism" in The Life of Hinduism, John Stratton Hawley ed.

Lola Williamson, Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion

Jeff Wilson, Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South

IV. American Popular Culture

Jane Naomi Iwamura, Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture

We'll use Tom Tweed and Stephen Prothero's Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History throughout the semester to supplement the secondary readings. 

We will also watch the film, Kumare, discussed in this INKtalk:

As you can see, the course is focused on Hinduism and Buddhism. I've chosen  this narrow focus so we can trace the history of these two traditions from the nineteenth century forward and because they are the two I have the most training in myself. And, yes, I put my own manuscript on the syllabus. So, dear RiAH readers, what are your thoughts? What books I should add or remove or replace? Is there a giant gaping hole in my outline? Do you have tips for teaching this sort of upper level seminar?

I'll report back with the final syllabus near the end of the summer.


David Stowe said…
Looks like a fine course, Michael. You may want to have a look at a chapter on the interaction of Buddhism and music in North America from my book "How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans" (2004).
Monica said…
Very interesting! I'm curious about the role of missionary work in the course topic - is the back and forth between Protestant America and Asian religions part of your vision of Asian religions in America? (Maybe your manuscript does some of this?) Are you limiting the syllabus to what's happening on North American soil?

I also ask this because I'm thinking of work that introduces women and gender through the missionary experience -- Amanda Porterfield has a chapter on India and Hindu reform in Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries, and there's that chapter in Sklar and Ellington's Competing Kingdoms that takes some of these themes into the early 20th century.

I look forward to your reports back on the course.
steiny said…
I haven't read the Seager, but Snodgrass' book on Japanese Buddhism at the conference has an interesting take on "Occidentalism" - the selective deployment of Western categories (including evolutionism, Orientalism, Romanticism, and idealism) to promote both the Eastern transmission of the dharma and the revival of Buddhism in Japan. Also Williams and Moriya's Issei Buddhism in the Americas is a terrific edited volume - maybe you'd find a good chapter or just use the brief introduction?
Anne B. said…
I (and 3/4 of my class) liked Wendy Cadge's Heartwood. It would add some women as well.
Anonymous said…
Did you consider using (perhaps just parts of) Prisoners of Shangri-La by Donald Lopez?
Thanks for these great suggestions, folks! I'm seeing now that this could easily be broken into two courses, Hinduism in America and Buddhism in America. I'll take a look at all the suggestions and let everyone know how the final syllabus turns out.