Building Buddhism in England: A Research Journey

When we began thinking about researching Buddhist buildings in England, we didn’t consider doing a blog.  The research outputs were going to be fairly traditional in academic terms – a written report and a journal article.  However, after our very first research trip, we both felt strongly that this project would be of interest to a wider audience….and so the blog was born.  We hope that this is one way of increasing the visibility of this research project and also a great means of documenting the fascinating stories of the different Buddhist buildings that we are seeing; highlighting one element of the changing religious landscape of England.

We particularly want to show our photographs. Although neither of us are professional photographers, it’s not hard to capture the beauty and detail of Buddhist buildings in this context, and photographs do show the different ways that the various Buddhist groups have worked with, built, changed, adapted, and lived in particular buildings, which range from small centres to large, ornate temples.

2013-12-03 15.22.30

Fo Guang Shan Temple, London

But this blog isn’t just about the images. We also want to take you on our research journey as we try to answer our key research questions:

What is the significance of buildings within Buddhist communities in England? What do they mean to the people who use them?

What does the build landscape look like for Buddhism in England, and how is it           changing?

How should we best refer to Buddhist buildings in England? What terminology is most appropriate? And what impact does this have on how we perceive them?

Do Buddhist buildings function in the same way as other faith buildings? Are they controversial, and if not, why not?

We also want to highlight some of the challenges faced in a research project of this nature. Particularly, how do you assess the significance of a building to Buddhists?

In an academic vein, we will situate this research on Buddhist buildings within the wider literature on ‘minority faith buildings’. Whilst Buddhist buildings haven’t received much academic attention, we can draw on the theories generated from the study of other religions. To cite one example, Peach and Gale (2003: 482) identified a typology in relation to the ways Hindu, Sikh and Muslim buildings have developed in Britain (specifically referring to planning regulations) and it will be useful to see how far this suits Buddhism in this context.

This is a very timely project. Both because so little has been done to map the built landscape for Buddhists in England, but also because Buddhism is not static. Buddhism is a growing religion in Britain (according to the census approximately 100,000 more people in 2011 defined themselves as Buddhists in comparison to 2001). Buildings are acquired, used, and then communities move and change. We think it is important to document these changes at a particular point in history, so that they are not forgotten.

References: 

Peach, C. and Gale, R. (2003) ‘Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in the New Religious Landscape of England’. Geographical Review. 93 (4), pgs. 469-490.

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