Guest post from the good Rev. Danny Fisher

This post was originally supposed to be part of a big ol’ blog swap a few weeks ago. I had to decline to participate last minute because of a family emergency, and Danny was only now able to write the following. I hope you enjoy. You can catch Danny on his regular blog here.

 

First, many thanks to Nate at Precious Metal for once again getting us
all together like this. Thank you also, of course, to Adam for
hosting this post.

I was invited to comment on Buddhism and the media. I think I’ll use
part of a longer piece I’m working on about what has been called
“Buddhist journalism.” My pal and Shambhala Sun editor Rod Meade
Sperry calls me a “newshound,” which I am. But I also am a Buddhist,
so I’m particularly interested in this intersection of the tradition
and news-gathering — particularly news-gathering by Buddhists.

It’s interesting to me that in the introduction to his and Kenneth K.
Tanaka’s book The Faces of Buddhism in America, my friend Chuck
Prebish observes that “a strong new Buddhist journalism” is apparent
on the American Buddhist landscape in such publications as Tricycle:
The Buddhist Review, Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma:  The Practitioner’s
Quarterly, Inquiring Mind, and Turning Wheel:  The Journal of Socially
Engaged Buddhism, “as well as many publications of individual Buddhist
centers.” Although the book only addresses these publications in terms
of how they aid engaged Buddhist organizations in “bringing [their
visions of] activism and optimism to the American Buddhist,” it is
becoming clear to me that works of Buddhist journalism are beginning
to serve another purpose: as source material for historical writing
about the development of Buddhism in America. In 2006, the Duke
Divinity School Library began the first attempt at a systematic
collection of American Buddhist periodicals—works that certainly fit
Prebish’s description of Buddhist journalism.  Commenting on this in a
post for the earliest iteration of Tricycle’s weblog entitled “Help
Record the History of American Buddhism”, another pal and contributing
editor for that publication, Jeff Wilson, wrote:

“At the end of the day, we really know so little about how Buddhism
spread from India to other countries. Documents are lost, important
meetings never recorded, artwork destroyed–whole teachings,
practices, and schools of Buddhism have been swallowed by time with
barely a trace left to let us know they were there…The difference this
time is that we [in America] have the capacity to observe and record
this new turning of the Dharma wheel while it is going on [in our
country], and to preserve important artifacts from this transmission
so that they will be available to historians and practitioners for
centuries to come.”

Jeff was careful to say something about the limitations of these
periodicals in his comment that the Duke Divinity Library’s project
will offer future generations only “a glimpse of how the Dharma took
root on these shores.” Before more histories of Buddhism in America
are recorded, though, I think we do well to take time for substantial
critical reflection on the use of periodicals that might be fall under
the rubric of “Buddhist journalism” as source material for historical
writing. It seems to me that there are important historiographical
questions to consider here for would-be historians of Buddhism in
America. Namely, “What constitutes evidence?”, “Can journalism be
considered evidence?”, “Is ‘Buddhist journalism’ journalism?”, and
finally “Can ‘Buddhist journalism’ be considered evidence?”

I’ll have more on this in the future, but this is just something I’m
thinking about now. Thanks again, everyone.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Guest post from the good Rev. Danny Fisher

  1. This is interesting, especially because most of those periodicals aren’t especially “journalistic.” They’re composed of what most newspaper editors would call feature and opinion pieces, not the sort of hard-nosed reportage that are most journalists’ bread and butter. And they certainly don’t shy away from taking shooting everything through with an editorial slant. That isn’t to disparage them in the slightest, but it is to differentiate them.

  2. Pingback: The Great Buddhist Blog Swap of 2011!: My Guest Post for Adam Johnson’s Fly Like a Crow « Rev. Danny Fisher