Thursday, August 23, 2012

Blavatsky and Buddhism in America

A new book, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media edited by Diane Winston, has a brief mention of Mme. Blavatsky in Nick Street’s chapter “American Press Coverage of Buddhism from the 1870s to the Present.” He cites a reference to Col. Olcott and Mme. Blavatsky in the New York Times of August 30, 1877 describing the visit of the Chinese missionary Wong Chin Foo. According to Street, “At this point in American history, media coverage of Buddhism—of most non-Christian religious practice, for that matter—was not so much a window into the unknown as a mirror reflecting the familiar and reassuring biases of America’s Protestant majority.”

From Madame Blavatsky’s bohemian apartment to Japanese American internment camps and from the Parliament of the World’s Religions to Veteran’s Administration hospitals, mainstream media in the United States have depicted Buddhism as a folly, a scourge, a fad, and a source of salvation. Journalism itself has been pinned with those labels at various times. At their best, Buddhist practice and reporting are pursuing the same end: to see things as they really are.

The book will be published August 29, 2012 by Oxford University Press, USA at $150.

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