Friday, March 22, 2019

Ann Gleig's "American Dharma"

Ann Gleig is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Central Florida. She is co-editor of Homegrown Gurus: From Hinduism in America to American Hinduism and has published widely on contemporary Buddhism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls in chapter three “Sex, Scandal, and the Shadow of the Roshi,” which considers the ways in which American Zen Buddhist have incorporated psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic discourses and practices into their communities as a response to reoccurring issues of sexual misconduct and abuse by Zen teachers. Using three case studies—Grace Schireson, Barry Magid, and Diane Hamilton—the chapter sets its specific aim as: (1) to reveal under what particular conditions psychotherapy had been incorporated into certain Zen communities; (2) to demonstrate which psychotherapeutic discourses have become dominant; and (3) how the introduction of psychotherapeutic has been legitimated within a wider Buddhist framework, which has produced new Buddhist discourses, practices and organizational forms.

The wider aim of the chapter is to show that American Zen Buddhists are employing dialogical rather than reductive approaches to psychotherapy. A reductive approach is one in which psychotherapy is privileged as the meta-discourse and religious (in this case, Buddhist) phenomena are assimilated and reduced to psychological discourse. A dialogical approach put religion and psychology into conversation as two distinct systems and generally employs psychology as a tool to extend the aims of religion. I argue that while most scholarly analyses of modern Buddhism focus on assimilative approaches, my research populations actually demonstrate dialogical approaches. This supports the overall thesis of the book, which is that development within American Buddhist communities cannot be contained within a modernist framework and show characteristics more associated with the postmodern, in this specific case the postmodern emphasis on difference rather than assimilation.

Both the specific and wider aims of the chapter as well as a glimpse of American Dharma’s basic thesis are illustrated on page 99, which overlaps between two of my case studies: Barry Magid and Diane Hamilton. In terms of its (longer) treatment of Magid, it notes that his work is particularly informed by relational and intersubjective theorists Jessica Benjamin and Philip Bromberg and that he explores the different ways in which attachment patterns play out in the teacher-student role. It also shows that he calls for the adoption of psychotherapy as part of Zen training in the U.S. and the development of an American Zen that acknowledges the emotional and relational needs of teachers and students. Most strikingly is the last paragraph in Magid’s section which notes that he explicitly differentiates between his dialogical approach and the mainstream medicalization of mindfulness in which Buddhist meditation has been completely assimilated to a scientific paradigm. As I conclude, “ Unlike this, his project is not concerned with the reduction of Zen to psychoanalysis but rather in fashioning a dialogue between the two as distinct systems that can each potentially correct the limitations of the other.” (2019:99).
Learn more about American Dharma at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue