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Buddhism in the Sea of Islands Webinar Series - October webinar

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A multidisciplinary webinar series on Buddhism in the Pacific region, examined through historical and contemporary contexts

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Buddhism in Aotearoa New Zealand: Multiple Sources and Diverse Forms

This article presents a provisional survey of Buddhists and Buddhist organizations in Aotearoa/New Zealand, identifying their key characteristics in terms of national origin, ethnicity, and areas of geographical concentration. We draw on three decades of the New Zealand census (1991-2018) to analyze demographic data about those who identify as Buddhist, and information from the NZ Charities Register to identify general characteristics of the diverse range of Buddhist organizations in the country. Based on this demographic data, we identify three main types of Buddhist institutions: (1) centers/temples serving heritage or “migrant” communities from Asian countries with Buddhist heritage; (2) centers which we refer to as “Pākehā/Multi-ethnic” because they serve newer Buddhists (“converts”) who are primarily but not exclusively Pākehā (NZ European), and (3) “multi-ethnic” organizations that include varying combinations of heritage and non-heritage Buddhists. Within each of the three categories we see diverse organizational forms and streams of distinctive Buddhist traditions, including sectarian, ethnic, and hybrid forms, each of which have contributed to a diverse religious landscape in significant ways. Most Buddhist centers are in urban areas, with 70 percent in or near Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. The main Buddhist traditions are almost equally represented across these institutions with 35 percent identified as Mahayana, 32 percent as Theravada, and 35 percent as Vajrayana (and 0.7% as mixed). The number of Buddhists in New Zealand has increased over the past three decades from 12,705 to 52,779, and approximately 80 percent identify with at least one of the Asian ethnic groups. Buddhists constitute only 1.1 percent of the total population, with at least 134 centers of varying sizes across the country. However, Buddhism may be exerting a cultural influence beyond these numbers, as recent research identified Buddhists as the “most trusted” religious group in contemporary New Zealand. In presenting this preliminary survey, we aim to provide a base for more in-depth investigations.

Keywords: Aotearoa New Zealand, Buddhism in New Zealand, contemporary Buddhists, immigration from Asia

presented by

Sally McAra, University of Auckland

Mark R Mullins, University of Auckland

This is the fifth of a series of five seminars in the ‘Buddhism in the Sea of Islands’ webinar series that examine transnational flows and counterflows of Buddhism in Pacific contexts. For updates and recordings of the webinars, visit: https://www.nantien.edu.au/buddhism-in-the-sea-of-islands-webinar-series/

Email the convenors at buddhism_network@nantien.edu.au


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