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Buddhism and Ireland
From the Celts to the Counter-Culture and Beyond
Ireland and Buddhism have a long history. Shaped by colonialism, contested borders, religious wars, empire and massive diasporas, Irish people have encountered Asian Buddhism in many ways over fourteen centuries. From the thrill of travellers’ tales in far-off lands to a religious alternative to Christianity, from the potential of anti-colonial solidarity to fears of 'going native', and from recent immigration to the secular spread of Buddhist meditation, Buddhism has meant many different things to people in Ireland.
Knowledge of Buddhist Asia reached Ireland by the seventh century, with the first personal contact in the fourteenth - a tale remembered for five hundred years. The first Irish Buddhists appeared in the political and cultural crisis of the nineteenth century, in Dublin and the rural West, but also in Burma and Japan. Over the next hundred years, Buddhism competed with esoteric movements to become the alternative to mainstream religion. Since the 1960s, Buddhism has exploded to become Ireland’s third-largest religion.
Buddhism and Ireland is the first history of its subject, a rich and exciting story of extraordinary individuals and the journey of ideas across Europe and Asia.
1. Buddhism in Ireland: an introduction to the problem
PART I: THINKING “BUDDHISM AND IRELAND” IN WORLD-SYSTEMS CONTEXT (500 - 1850)
2. The Prologue to Buddhism in Ireland: awareness without interest
PART II: BUDDHISTS AND THEOSOPHISTS, CAUGHT BETWEEN EMPIRES (1850 - 1960)
3. The Two Empires: Ireland in Asia, Asia in Ireland
4. Esotericism against Empire: Irish Theosophy
5. The First Irish Buddhists: jumping ship and “going native”
PART III: BUDDHISM WITHIN IRELAND: FROM COUNTER-CULTURE TO RESPECTABILITY (1960 - 2010)
6. The New “Catholic Buddhists” and Post-colonial Social Movements
7. Buddhism through the Celtic Tiger: choices for the future
"This is a truly fascinating book on how Buddhism arrived and was localised in Ireland. It shows how Ireland was never isolated from a global circuit of knowledge on Buddhism and Asia mediated by empire building, nationalism, colonialism, religion and ethnicity.”
Cristina Rocha, University of Western Sydney
“With a cast of Buddhist characters you couldn’t invent, this insightful and clearly written account of the extraordinary relationship between Buddhism and Ireland deftly challenges conventional histories of Western Buddhism.”
Brian Bocking, University College Cork
“Laurence Cox reveals why the practice of Buddhism may flourish in Ireland - and why Irish Buddhists have a longer history than we might suppose. Focus and perspicuity inform this admirable work on conversion and seeking.”
Joseph Lennon, Villanova University, USA
"The historical material in this book is so rich and fascinating that it is impossible to do justice to the section on contemporary Irish Buddhism in this review. This is a splendid study which should appeal to general readers and not merely to devotees or those who have an academic interest in Buddhism. It is an outstanding contribution to a new and exciting branch of Irish Studies."
Tadhg Foley, Dublin Review of Books