Asian Ethnology 81 1&2 | article Three Trees Make a Mountain Women and Contramodern Buddhist Volunteerism in Vietnam

Sara Ann Swenson

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Charity Buddhism modernism contramodernism Vietnam women

This article examines how women adapt devotional Buddhist worldviews within popular charity movements in Vietnam. Buddhist volunteerism is on the rise across Asia. In Vietnam, government officials encourage religious philanthropy among policy shifts toward increasing economic privatization and decreasing state welfare. Promoting philanthropy is one way officials prompt citizens to assume new responsibilities toward the state and one another by sharing private resources. Researchers have examined how popular charity trends in Asia compel volunteers to navigate changing understandings of moral personhood by internalizing modernist concepts of “rational good.” I complicate these studies by using Casey Collins’s theory of “Buddhist contramodernism” to show how women in Vietnam adapt devotional Pure Land Buddhism in addressing modern social concerns without adopting modernist Buddhist values. This article also expands Collins’s theory by demonstrating how grassroots charity groups suggest the need for a broader definition of contramodernism.