Social Dimensions of Health

Film: Healing Community Trauma at Seabrook Temple, produced by C. Pierce Salguero & Lan A. Li

This film focuses on Seabrook Buddhist Temple, a Buddhist Churches of America branch founded in 1945 in rural New Jersey, an hour east of Philadelphia. About 500 Japanese American families were relocated to this area after being released from WWII internment camps in order to work at the local Seabrook Farms food processing operation. During our interviews with some of the original members of the Japanese-American community as well as their descendants, they report that the temple was a valuable cultural center that provided the community with a place to come together socially, as well as a doctrinal framework through which to come to terms with the tumultuous events that they had experienced. Today, the temple community includes Caucasian members and those of mixed ancestry; however, the temple continues to serve as a touchstone for Japanese Americans both locally and regionally.


In addition to their religious functions, Buddhist institutions also serve as community centers and as social spaces that serve as information hubs and facilitate the development of social networks. Such informal flows of information often focus on issues related to health, such as when members exchange recipes for medicinal teas, recommendations for specific online resources, or directions to a particular healthcare center via word-of-mouth. Community bulletin boards are a common feature of these spaces, and these sometimes feature advertisements for specific healthcare practitioners.

Such exchanges can be seen taking place at English-speaking meditation centers; however, they take on additional importance in immigrant communities, as the temple may be one of the few environments where information is gathered and disseminated in the members’ native language. These spaces also provide connections with home-country foodways and other aspects of culture that help to reinforce the community’s identity and a sense of belonging. These social roles are even further amplified in the case of groups who have arrived in the Philadelphia area as refugees in the wake of violence or political persecution. 

Study questions for this film:
  • Describe how this Japanese American community wound up relocating from California to the Philadelphia area.
  • Do you believe that the Japanese American community’s healing would have been as successful without the temple? Why or why not?
  • How does this temple represent a blend of Japanese and American cultures?
  • What role do you think religious practices and communities can play in healing traumas of various kinds?
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Further reading:
  • Paula Arai. Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011. — An intimate study of how Buddhist rituals are interwoven into Japanese women’s lives.
  • Joseph Cheah. 2011. Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press. — A study of the practice of Buddhism among immigrants and Caucasians in the US, through the lens of critical race theory.
  • Wakoh S. Hickey. 2010. “Two Buddhisms, Three Buddhisms, and Racism.” Journal of Global Buddhism 11: 1–25. — A critique of prevailing models of American Buddhism that seek to bifurcate Asian and Caucasian practitioners along racial or ethnic lines.
  • Hongyu Wu. 2002. “Buddhism, Health, and Healing in a Chinese Community,” last accessed 10 Feb. 2018. — Overview of health attitudes among Chinese residents of Boston.