Arts, Faith and Humanities

The Meditating Monk Re-imagined

Written by Laura Paskin, College of Arts and Sciences

February 9, 2015

a student reading a book in front of a large tree on campus

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Theology and Religious Studies  Professor Sharon Suh's Silver Screen Buddha explores the representation of Buddhists and Buddhism in Asian and Western films. The book addresses political, gendered and racial overtones in those representations.

"By repeatedly romanticizing the meditating monk, the diversity of Buddhism has been obscured," Suh said. "This has had troubling effects on gendered and racialized Buddhists across time and place. There are differences between a fictionalized, commodified and exoticized Buddhism and Buddhism as it exists among lay communities."

Silver Screen Buddha  brings to light expressions of the tradition that highlight laity and women, on the one hand, and Asian and Asian Americans, on the other. Suh engages in a re-visioning of Buddhism that expands the popular understanding of the tradition, moving from the dominance of meditating monks to the everyday world of raced, gendered and embodied lay Buddhists.  

"Sharon Suh invites the reader to re-imagine Buddhism through the lens of film, a genre that is too often dismissed as 'entertainment,'" writes reviewer Mark Unno, East Asian Buddhism, University of Oregon. "She offers fresh insights that illuminate previously overlooked dimensions of Buddhist thought and culture in vivid and original terms." 

Suh, chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, received her PhD from Harvard University and joined the College of Arts and Sciences  faculty in 2000. Her scholarship and teaching focus on Buddhism, race, public life and gender; Asian American religions; and religion and immigration. Silver Screen Buddha is her second book.

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