Buddhism is thriving in US-America, attracting many converts with college and post-graduate degrees as well as selling all forms of popular culture. Yet little is known about the communication dynamics behind the diffusion of Buddhist religious/spiritual traditions into the United States. Religion is an underexplored area of intercultural communication studies (Nakayama & Halualani, 2010) and this study meets the lacuna in critical intercultural communication scholarship by investigating the communication practices of US-Americans adopting Asian Buddhist religious/spiritual traditions. Ethnographic observations were conducted at events where US-Americans gathered to learn about and practice Buddhist religious/spiritual traditions. In addition, interviews were conducted with US-Americans who were both learning and teaching Buddhism. The grounded theory method was used for data analysis. The findings of this study describe an emerging theory of the paracultural imaginary -- the space of imagining that one could be better than who one was today by taking on the cultural vestments of (an)Other. The embodied communication dynamics of intercultural exchange that take place when individuals adopt the rituals and philosophies of a foreign culture are described. In addition, a self-reflexive narrative of my struggle with the silence of witnessing the paracultural imaginary is weaved into the analysis. The findings from this study extend critical theorizing on cultural identity, performativity, and cultural appropriation in the diffusion of traditions between cultural groups. In addition, the study addresses the complexity of speaking out against the subtle prejudices in encountered in intercultural communication.
- The paracultural imaginary: cultural appropriation, heterophily and the diffusion of religious/spiritual traditions in intercultural communication
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by Terrie Siang-Ting Wong