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date: 15 November 2019

Buddhism and American musiclocked

  • Scott A. Mitchell


Buddhist music has traditionally been studied through the lens of ethnomusicology, thus highlighting the close association between the religion and the Asian cultures in which Buddhism has developed over the last 2500 years. After more than a century of Asian immigration coupled with native-born practitioners and converts, there is at present a great diversity of American Buddhist musical traditions. Rather than attempting to tease out a sharp distinction between “cultural” and “religious” musical forms, this article explores specific styles and genres of music that have origins in or are inspired by Buddhist religious practices. Three styles are particularly important in the American context: Buddhist chants, devotional or liturgical music, and popular musical expressions.

For several centuries following the death of the historical Buddha, his religious descendants passed on his teachings (dhamma) orally. This was done by means of the repetitive chanting of scriptures (sutta), monastic codes (...

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