International Journal of Heritage Studies

IMG_1100Emma and I are pleased to announce that our second article linked to the ‘Building Buddhism’ project has now been published by the International Journal of Heritage Studies.

The article is entitled: Buddhist buildings in England: the construction of ‘under-represented’ faith heritage in a multicultural and post-Christian setting.

It is available from:  (the first 50 visitors can access a free copy).


We hope you enjoy reading it!  Caroline and Emma


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Emma and I are really pleased to announce that our first journal article based on the research we have conducted for ‘Building Buddhism’ has now been published by Contemporary Buddhism.

The article is available online, and although it usually requires a subscription, the first 50 people to have a look online can download the article for free.

We really hope you enjoy reading the article (another article is soon to be published by The International Journal of Heritage Studies, and we will keep you posted when that is available too).

2013-11-04 14.36.39

London Buddhist Centre entrance and mural


Happy Reading!


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Building Minority Faith Heritage : Research, Innovation, and Opportunities in Britain and Beyond – A Research Day


We are holding a research day, on Monday 4th July 2016, that may be of interest to many of you who read our blog. The details are below! We hope to see you there.

Building Minority Faith Heritage : Research, Innovation, and Opportunities in Britain and Beyond
4th July 2016
University of Leeds, Fairbairn House Main Building Upper Chapel LR (1.04a)
71-75 Clarendon Road, Leeds LS2 9JT
In this exciting and multi-disciplinary research day, we will be considering what minority religious heritage looks like in contemporary Britain and beyond and new definitions of ‘heritage’ in so-called ‘post-Christian’ societies. We will be exploring how place, space and faith interact in super-diverse contexts and how the lens of the built environment helps us to better understand the complex place of religion in the public sphere. Finally, we will discuss opportunities for the academy and public heritage bodies to successfully interact in production of ‘impactful’ research. 
ALL WELCOME (please RSVP to Dr Caroline Starkey
Speakers include: 
Dr Linda Monckton, Historic Environment Intelligence Analyst for Social                               Impacts, Historic England.
Professor Emma Tomalin, Dr Caroline Starkey and Dr Jasjit Singh ‘Building                         Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism in England’        
Dr Richard Gale (University of Cardiff) and Dr Andrew Rogers (University                           of Roehampton), Title TBC (Drs Gale and Rogers have written extensively                         on faith, space and planning in contemporary British contexts)
Dr Claire Dwyer, UCL , Title TBC (Claire is currently researching the transnational geographies of new suburban faith spaces in the UK and Canada)
Clare Canning, University of Leicester, Title TBC (Clare is researching Sikh                           Gurdwaras in Britain, with a focus on Leicester)
Dr Anna Halafoff (Deakin University, Australia) ‘Buddhist Buildings in                                   Australia’
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Is a Football Ground a Buddhist Building? Some thoughts on Leicester FC

I’ve just written a blog post on ‘Religion in Public’, the blog for the Centre for Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds about the Buddhist monks that have been blessing Leicester FC’s ground and players – you can see the blog post here.  Apparently, the Thai owner and Chairman of the Club has asked the monks to bless the pitch and he has also built them a separate room for match days, where they are able to meditate, presumably to generate some positive energy for the club and players.  This has got me thinking – should we be including Leicester City’s King Power Stadium in our mapping of Buddhist buildings in England? What do you think?


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From Westbourne Park to Vogue: The West London Buddhist Centre


The old home of the West London Buddhist Centre

West London Buddhist Centre was of interest to us primarily because, at the time we visited, it was in the process of moving from a smaller, Victorian property to a modern building designed specifically for their needs, on the ground floor below luxury flats.  West London Buddhist Centre, affiliated with Triratna, bought its current building in Westbourne Park, West London, twenty years previously.  Prior to this, the community owned another building on New Portobello Road, and before this, had rented rooms in houses for group meetings and meditation.  The building they occupied at the time of our interview was not considered ideal when originally purchased, in the main because of its small size, and the community had made several earlier attempts to relocate but had not found a suitable space that could also be used as a ‘non-residential institution’ (D1) in planning terms and which was also affordable in affluent West London.

According to our informant, designing a building from scratch is ‘unprecedented in (the Triratna) movement’ as more commonly, Triratna Buddhist Centres have been located in adapted existing buildings, such as the fire station in Bethnal Green for the London Buddhist Centre, which we wrote about in an earlier blog post.  Working with a professional architects firm has allowed the West London Buddhist Centre to make its mark on the building, and enabled the community to get, as far as possible within the limits of the space, exactly what they think will suit, and reflect the needs and temperament of their community members.


The new West London Buddhist Centre under construction!

This has included taking a rather minimalist approach, involving more muted colour schemes, fewer images of the Buddha or Tibetan thankas, for example. What is most interesting, perhaps, is the process that West London Buddhist Centre has been through with their architects firm.  They have worked together to design a building that includes an open, public, space, but that as one moves deeper into the building, the space becomes smaller, more private, and quiet, as if in an inner sanctum. It was explained to us that this mirrors the process of meditation, moving from a loud, busy mind, to one which has been quietened and stilled. However, all of these conceptual decisions, as well as the plans for decoration, have been part of a much larger process of consultation within the community, to ensure that the new building space reflects the needs of as many as possible. Furthermore, the community does not plan to only use professionals to assist them in developing the space, but also to draw on volunteers as well. We were told that this was important to build and strengthen a sense of community.

The West London Buddhist Centre plans to use the space to host larger events, and will have a dedicated yoga studio. The community will offer a wider range of events, including a more ‘secular’ mindfulness course, which, it is anticipated, will take place within the studio. The result of which will, no doubt, be a widening of its membership and a broadening of the community.

What was indeed fascinating to us, as scholars of religion in contemporary Britain, was the fact that the new building was featured in the July 2014 edition of British Vogue! In this article (see below) the fact that a Buddhist centre was moving into the building was being used as a selling point by the property developers – how interesting that proximity to a Buddhist group is something that ‘enhances the value’ of the property in modern Britain!


At the time of writing this blog post, West London Buddhist Centre had relocated to their new home -and you can see some photographs of the finished interior on their website:

We can’t wait to visit again to see the building and how it is being used!

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From Building Buddhism to Building Hinduism…..


Here at the Centre for Religion and Public Life, Emma and I have been busy writing up our research about Buddhist buildings in England into a final report and some academic journal articles.  Once the report is finalised, our aim is to put a link to it on this blog so that our findings can be widely accessible (we will let you know about the journal articles too!).  We have thoroughly enjoyed this piece of research and felt well and truly welcomed by all of the Buddhist communities which we came into contact with.  It has been a privilege to delve into the fascinating histories of such a range of different communities, and get a glimpse of the ways in which the built environment shapes and is shaped by Buddhist communities. We think there is much more to find out, and many more groups to visit and we hope that this is not the end of Building Buddhism!


Whilst we investigate the possibility of future research into Buddhism in the UK, we have started an exciting new research adventure with Historic England into Hindu, Jain, Zoroastrian and Bahá’í buildings in England.  We have started another blog – Building Hinduism – which we really hope you will have a look at. We will be adding blog posts, including our reflections and some amazing photographs that we have collected on our travels – do follow us!

Thanks for reading – we hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have.

Emma and Caroline







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‘Where Do We Start? Right Here…’ Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey, Northumberland


In 1970, the Northumberland farm buildings and land that were to become Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey were purchased by the early disciples of Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett, the founder of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.  The burgeoning Sōtō Zen Buddhist community (Serene Reflection Meditation Tradition) was initially run by American followers of Jiyu-Kennett, who had previously established a monastic training community at Shasta Abbey in California.  Jiyu-Kennett, a British woman, had taken Buddhist ordination in the 1960s, first in Malaysia and then in Japan, and had spent some time in Japan training at Sojiji monastery, a principal temple in the Sōtō Zen Buddhist tradition, before returning to the West to establish the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives in the Serene Reflection Meditation tradition. The land that was purchased for the new Buddhist community in Northumberland had been a farm and a hippy commune, and the built structures that were there were basic (at best), and in a poor state. What was to become the monks’ meditation hall, was a stone cow shed, with no windows, and also with outside stairs and which needed a complete re-build.

We were told that when Reverend Master Jiyu-Kennett came to visit the site, the volunteers who were working on the buildings were slightly overwhelmed by the task ahead of them.  They asked her ‘Where do we start’? In response, Kennett picked up a broom, began sweeping, and said ‘right here’.


In the early days, the renovation and building work was done by lay and ordained community members, and within a very tight budget. Later renovations and building work were done with an architect, drawn from the community, who helped to plan the extensions and the additional buildings that were constructed. However, the Abbot of the Abbey is a trained surveyor, and therefore was able to draw up plans for the complex. Nonetheless, both the monks (which in this community, refers to both ordained men and women) and the lay people who volunteered also learnt to undertake jobs themselves, including plumbing and bricklaying.   Learning new skills and participating in the building and renovation work was seen as integrated into the Buddhist practice of these community members, and although we were told that they ‘didn’t come here to build a building’ but came to focus their minds on meditation, the building work itself became part of the meditation practice, and thus building and Buddhist practice in this setting are intricately intertwined.

The land (and the farm buildings on it) was chosen partly due to reasonable cost, and partly because of its location in remote, and rural Northumberland countryside.  We were told that having a monastery removed from the urban metropolis is certainly in keeping with the idea of a Zen monastery as being located somewhere where one has to make an effort to travel to.  The land itself is located in an Area of Outstanding Beauty, which was once a centre for lead mining, and also agricultural farming.


There are currently a number of buildings on the Abbey complex, including a monks’ meditation hall, a main ceremonial hall, a dining room, bathrooms, and also an extension, built in the 1990s, which houses guest accommodation and a large kitchen.  There are a number of former outbuildings which have also been renovated over the years, including a tool shed and work-room, and also a relatively newly constructed monks’ accommodation block (which was built after the community were left a legacy), with office space and a library. Also, further away from the main buildings there is a small retreat hut.  In the grounds of the Abbey, there are cemeteries (for monks, and also for pets) and also gardens.   The buildings were renovated and built over a number of years, to accommodate the needs of the growing monastic community, and the lay supporters.   It is fair to say that the successful development of the land and buildings at Throssel Hole has been the result of a great deal of effort, and also of vision – turning a run-down farm into a thriving Buddhist monastery. Throssel Hole keeps quite a large archive, including a number of old photographs of the buildings both before and after the various stages of renovation.


The buildings themselves are currently used to house a monastic community and to provide space for their Buddhist training as taught by Jiyu-Kennett, and this includes a number of lay people, postulants (those prior to ordination) and monks (male and female).  There are retreats run almost every weekend (including annual family weekends), as well as festivals and ceremonies.  The community host a number of school visits throughout the year, akin to several of the other Buddhist communities involved in this research. Most of the community members both lay and ordained, are converts to Buddhism, although, at least in the early days, the monastics also supported the Chinese community in Britain by facilitating funerals before they had established their own places of worship.



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