Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2018 Volume 14 :: Article 3
2018 Volume 14, Article 3
Introducing the Sort-of Buddhist: Or, If There Is No �I� to Have a Religious Identity, Then How Do I Fill Out This Survey?�

Author: Anne C. Spencer (The College of Idaho Caldwell) and Scott Draper ( The College of Idaho Caldwell)

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ABSTRACT

Western concepts of religious identity developed from worldviews that posit a permanent self and require exclusive acceptance of a single religion for salvation. These assumptions become problematic, however, when applied to traditions holding different worldviews. As a result, Western religious demographic research uses categories that do not accurately reflect many practitioners� understanding of themselves and their religious paths. New approaches are needed to assess contemporary religious identity. A 2011 survey of participants in the Buddhist Churches of America asked respondents, �Would you describe yourself as Buddhist?� Response options included the new category: �yes, sort of.� While the majority answered that they were �definitely� Buddhist, 15 percent chose the �sort of� option. We explore potential motives for this selection from multiple perspectives including a brief overview of Buddhist philosophy and teaching regarding the nature of self, a review of previous literature on Buddhist identity, and quantitative and qualitative analysis of new and existing data. Our literature review and qualitative results suggest that the choice of Sort-of Buddhist identity reflects an understanding of religious identity grounded in Buddhist teaching regarding the �self� as impermanent and interdependent. We also identify a pattern in which individuals who began attending Buddhist temples as adults are disproportionately likely to identify as �sort of� Buddhist, even though they respond similarly to �definitely� Buddhists on measures of religious participation. Finally, we suggest that contemporary ambivalence toward exclusive religious identity in the U.S. may also be a factor in choosing a �sort of� religious identity.

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