Jivaka Project Philadelphia represents the first survey of Buddhist healers and healing in any major American city. This website records a wide range of information about Buddhist temples, meditation centers, and community centers around the Greater Philadelphia area between 2015 and 2020. This multimedia and ethnographic material represents a wide range of institutions associated with a number of different Buddhist denominations and cultural/linguistic/ethnic communities.
Buddhist institutions play a visibly important role in the American urban landscape, but their contributions to health and wellness have never been systematically explored. While these connections between Buddhism and health are rarely mentioned in scholarship on Buddhism or on American religion, they are regular parts of daily life for communities of Asian immigrants and refugees, as well as other Buddhists. Buddhist health-seeking activities include the performance of public and private healing rituals, individual or communal chanting and prayer, and the practice of silent meditation punctuated by bells and other instruments. Within the temple grounds, traditional Asian medical procedures are performed, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and massage. They also include boisterous festivals that feature native foods with health implications, psychologically healing social interactions among community members, and maybe even booths where attendees can receive a checkup from a medical professional.
The intention behind the project as a whole is to highlight the rich multiethnic social fabric of Greater Philadelphia. We also hope it can become an opportunity to enhance the visibility of the non-white non and non-native-English-speaking practitioners that make up a large portion of contemporary American Buddhism. The diversity of American Buddhism has been increasingly emphasized as an important priority for scholarly research. Critics have pointed out that mainstream English-language media has unduly focused on Caucasians in their coverage of American Buddhism, all too often forgetting or glossing over the significant contributions of people of color. Observers have decried the erasure of Asian-American Buddhism in particular, arguing for more attention to be paid to the role of Asian communities in both the history and contemporary practice of Buddhism in the U.S. One immediate priority in this effort is to bring more diverse perspectives into our understanding of the connections between Buddhism and health. The popular media tend to exclusively focus on the practice of mindfulness meditation, which is becoming ever more popular in mainstream culture. However, bringing more diverse voices into the conversation opens up a richer world of practices and cultural orientations toward health and healing that are currently flourishing within contemporary American Buddhism.
Most of the research for this project was conducted in collaboration with students of Asian heritage with relevant language and cultural skills to serve as ethnographers and liaisons. Please read about the pedagogical methods and philosophy behind this and other aspects of the project here.