Andrew Yip and Sarah-Jane Page: Understanding Young Buddhists | Living Out Ethical Journeys | Chapter 1-A: Situating the Study

Series: International Studies in Religion and Society, Volume: 28

Series edited by: Lori G. Beaman (University of Ottawa) | Peter Beyer (University of Ottawa)
Advisory Board: Afe Adogame (University of Edinburgh) | Elizabeth Coleman (Monash University)
Lene Kühle (Aarhus University) | Mary Jo Neitz (University of Missouri) | Linda Woodhead (University of Lancaster)

There is currently an acute lack of scholarly engagement with Buddhism and youth. Based on ground-breaking empirical research, Understanding Young Buddhists: Living out Ethical Journeys explores the stories of young Buddhists, through a rich analysis of their lived experiences. Page and Yip explore their journeying into Buddhism, their Buddhist belief and practice, their management of sexuality, and their social positioning in relation to family and kin, friendship networks, youth culture, and occupational aspirations. Using lived religion as a theoretical lens, and bringing into dialogue research on Buddhism and youth, Understanding Young Buddhists convincingly demonstrates the resourcefulness and creativity of young Buddhists in developing ethics for life, as they negotiate the diverse challenges and opportunities in their journeys of life.



The book is based on a research project entitled Religion, Youth and Sexuality: A Multi-faith Exploration, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council under the Religion and Society Programme (Award no. AH/G014051/1). The research team consisted of Prof. Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip (Principal Investigator), Dr. Michael Keenan (Coinvestigator), and Dr. Sarah-Jane Page (Research Fellow). We are grateful for the generous funding which has enabled us to conduct the research meaningfully. We also want to express our deepest gratitude to the 44 young adults, whose thoughts and voices serve as the foundation of this book. We thank you for your time in sharing their stories and lived experiences. We sincerely hope that we have done you justice.

We also wish to thank the members of the advisory committee on the research project, whose feedback has been consistently encouraging and positive. They are: Daniel Downes, Amreen Hussain, Jagbir Jhutti-Johal, Glenn Martin, Sally Munt, Sivakumari Ramachandran, Jasjit Singh, Sharon Smith, and Elizabeth Stuart.

We also wish to extend our appreciation to all the individuals and groups/ organisations that helped us publicise the project in various ways and contributed significantly to the recruitment of participants. There are too many of you for us to list individually. But we want you to know that your support has been most appreciated.

Many colleagues have also provided support and advice in one way or another, and we thank them. They are: Kathy Almack, Elisabeth Arweck, Kristin Aune, Lori Beaman, Chak-Kwan Chan, Janine Clements, Neil Cobb, Denise Cush, Grace Davie, Andrew Davies, Pamela Dickey Young, Lena Gemzöe, Mathew Guest, Anna Halafoff, Stephen Hunt, Dawn Llewellyn, Pam Lowe, Michael Keenan, Sally Munt, Catrien Notemans, Peter Nynäs, Katy Pilcher, Chrissie Rogers, Sonya Sharma, Jasjit Singh, Heather Shipley, Naomi Stanton, Yvette Taylor, Maya Turolla, and Linda Woodhead.

Our editors at Brill, Stephanie Paalvast and Giulia Moriconi, have been most supportive and helpful throughout the production process. We thank them for their professionalism and collegiality. We are also indebted to the two anonymous manuscript reviewers who performed their role with exemplary thoroughness and insightfulness.

Finally, family members and friends have been invaluable in offering encouragement, support and strength. Sarah-Jane would specifically like to thank Chris and Pam. Andrew would specifically like to thank Noël.

Situating the Study

Religion and Youth: An Oxymoron? 

In 21st century Britain, it may appear anachronistic to talk about religious young people. Indeed, when young people are considered in relation to religion, much discussion emerges on their declining affiliation with traditional religious institutions. Many scholars have reported the dwindling numbers of young people associated with churches, for example, Brierley (2006), CollinsMayo, Mayo and Nash (2010), and Stanton (2012). As Voas and Crockett (2005) also note, religious socialisation is weakening; around half of the children born to religiously-active parents will not sustain a religious identity. But such research tends to focus on Christianity. Thus it is the decline in Christianity, rather than religion per se, which is being mapped. But population changes are altering the dynamics of religion. Indeed, the impact of immigration to the uk from the 1960s onwards has expanded the field of religion research – with a plethora of studies now exploring how religion is constituted in an increasingly multi-religious contemporary Britain (Woodhead and Catto, 2012). Evidence indicates that migrant populations are more religiously devout compared to other groups (Davie, 2016), but as migrant populations have children who become more embedded within the contours of British life, questions are still raised about the extent to which future generations will continue to align themselves with their religion of upbringing (Beyer, 2013b). Meanwhile much research has charted how some religious groups – particularly Muslims – are singled out and treated with suspicion. When youth identity is bound up with Islam, this is deemed concerning, with young Muslim women being constructed as oppressed, and young Muslim men, as potential terrorists (Contractor, 2012; Cressey, 2006; De Sondy, 2013; Hopkins, 2007).

Our starting point focuses on young adults for whom religion remains a significant source of identity-construction. Although we take seriously the research that has strongly indicated the decoupling of youth and religion, we would still contend that religion is important for a good number of young people. Madge, Hemming and Stenson’s (2014) research on teenagers and religion in three ethnically and religiously diverse areas of the uk emphasises the positive impact religion has on young people’s lives, whether they identify religiously, or not. Their research emphasises the importance of asking how young people respond to religious diversity, revealing that they are very reflexive about the dynamic nature of religion, emphasising the way religious practice changes across generations. These young people encounter religion in their everyday lives, through their own families and religions they are socialised into, and/or encountering the religious traditions of friends at school. Other scholars have researched the complex patterns of religious socialisation, with Arweck and Nesbitt (2010a) highlighting the diverse ways in which religious transmission occurs. They emphasise the complexity of transmission when parents are of different faiths, and a variety of means through which religion is conveyed to young people – for example, grandparents can reconnect grandchildren with religious traditions that may have been eschewed by their own children.

Meanwhile another body of research has emphasised the new avenues for religious expression amongst young people. Cush (2010) and Berger and Ezzy (2007), for instance, have conducted research with young people who have become Witches. This interest has been influenced by broader engagement with witchcraft and Wicca in popular culture, evidenced in tv shows like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and films like The Craft. Both sets of authors explain, however, that their participants take their engagement very seriously, and although they may be motivated to explore Witchcraft and Wicca because of such media outputs, they often move beyond these populist expressions very quickly. Their participants deeply engage with learning about Wicca and Witchcraft; they become well-informed and highly religiously-literate groups. Meanwhile others have explored the relationship between religion and popular culture, and the new forms that this takes, such as tattooing as a spiritual expression (Collins-Mayo and Beaudoin, 2010; Mitchell, 2012), and clubbing as a religious experience (Lynch, 2005; Moore, 2010).

The study of religion and youth is a vibrant research field and encompasses a vast array of issues – only a minority of which have been mentioned here.[1] This book considers a youth demographic often overlooked within existing research – young adult Buddhists. In this chapter, we will map our rationale for this focus, and some brief details regarding how they differ somewhat from youth of other religious traditions. We will then offer a methodological account of our research. This is followed by a brief discussion of our theoretical framing, drawing on Tweed’s (2006) idea of religion as ‘crossing’ and ‘dwelling’. Finally, we offer an overview of the book.


[1] Within the uk context, see also Archer (2001), Din (2006), Dwyer (1998), Guest, Aune, Sharma and Warner, (2013), Hall (2002), Hopkins (2004), Kibria (2008), Raj (2000), Savage, Collins-Mayo, Mayo and Cray (2006), Sinclair and Milner (2005), Singh (2010). Collins-Mayo and Dandelion (2010) have also produced an excellent edited collection on religion and youth. Throughout this book, we also draw from relevant studies out of the British context.

Soruce: BRILL


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