American Sutra: Buddhism and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII

Colloquium | February 25 | 4-6 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Duncan Ryūken Williams, Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California

 Mark Blum, Professor, Shinjo Ito Distinguished Chair in Japanese Studies, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley; Carolyn Chen, Associate Professor, Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, UC Berkeley

 Center for Japanese Studies (CJS), Asian American Studies, Department of Ethnic Studies, Center for Buddhist Studies, Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion

Duncan Ryūken Williams (USC) will discuss his new book “American Sutra” about Buddhism and the WWII Japanese American internment. The fact that the vast majority of Japanese Americans were Buddhist was responsible for why nearly 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-third of whom were American citizens, were targeted for forcible removal from the Pacific coast states and incarcerated in remote interior camps surrounded by barbed wire. Ironically, their Buddhist faith also was also what helped the Japanese American community endure and persist at a time of dislocation, loss, and uncertainty. Based on newly translated Japanese-language diaries of Buddhist priests from the camps, extensive interview with survivors of the camps, and newly declassified government documents about how Buddhism was seen as a national security threat, Williams argues that Japanese American Buddhists launched one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom in U.S. history.

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