Differences Between Ethnic and Convert Buddhists

December 15, 2002

Source: Voice of America


On December 15, 2002 the Voice of America reported that "officially, there are about a million Buddhists in America. But because questions about religious identity are voluntary on any U.S. census survey, most experts believe the actual number may be as high as five million. What isn't a subject of debate is the fact that the overwhelming majority of American Buddhists are so-called 'ethnic' Buddhists, immigrants, or the descendents of immigrants who came to this country from Asia. Yet, the overwhelming amount of media attention has been focused on converts to Buddhism, nearly all of whom are of European ancestry... Paul Numrich is a professor at Loyola University in Chicago who's been studying ethnic Buddhist communities for more than a decade... He says among Asian-Americans, Buddhism is primarily a way for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants to remain connected to the cultures of their ancestors... Numrich believes convert Buddhism isn't a priestly religion, the way ethnic Buddhism is, precisely because the hundreds of thousands of mostly white Americans who've converted don't depend upon Buddhism for their sense of cultural identity."