The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912

Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent

By Thomas A. Tweed

With a new preface by the author

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 2 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4906-4
    Published: November 2000
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7615-2
    Published: October 2005

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In this landmark work, Thomas Tweed examines nineteenth-century America's encounter with one of the world's major religions. Exploring the debates about Buddhism that followed upon its introduction in this country, Tweed shows what happened when the transplanted religious movement came into contact with America's established culture and fundamentally different Protestant tradition.

The book, first published in 1992, traces the efforts of various American interpreters to make sense of Buddhism in Western terms. Tweed demonstrates that while many of those interested in Buddhism considered themselves dissenters from American culture, they did not abandon some of the basic values they shared with their fellow Victorians. In the end, the Victorian understanding of Buddhism, even for its most enthusiastic proponents, was significantly shaped by the prevailing culture. Although Buddhism attracted much attention, it ultimately failed to build enduring institutions or gain significant numbers of adherents in the nineteenth century. Not until the following century did a cultural environment more conducive to Buddhism's taking root in America develop.

In a new preface, Tweed addresses Buddhism's growing influence in contemporary American culture.

About the Author

Thomas A. Tweed is professor of religious studies and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For more information about Thomas A. Tweed, visit the Author Page.


"This paperback reprint of the highly acclaimed 1992 hardback is welcome, enabling it to become even more widely accessible to scholars and students. . . . Details and examples are combined with discussion of broader trends in a masterful synthesis."--Journal of American Studies

"Indispensable reading for anyone interested in the history of Buddhism in America."--Jan Nattier, Indiana University

"When first published, Tweed's American Encounter with Buddhism raised questions about how Buddhism could be assimilated to American ideals and values. Its republication has a timeliness now that the dharma has taken on far greater prominence in the 'new pluralism' of the nation's religious landscape. This book is an important contribution to the sometime rancorous debate about what American Buddhism ought to look like and how it can best be adapted to American culture in ways that will insure both its success in the future and its integrity."--Richard Hughes Seager, author of Buddhism in America

"This is one of the finest books I have read in a long time. . . . I find the account particularly worthwhile for its sensitivity to how the American Buddhists and their Asian allies worked to shape their account of Buddhism to address the core value concerns of Victorian America. . . . I highly recommend it."--William H. Swatos, Jr., Sociology of Religion

"An important and original contribution to American intellectual and social history. . . . After reading [it], one is not likely ever again to think of America in quite the same way as before. . . . Highly recommended."--Robert S. Ellwood, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography