Father Joseph Cheah knows the power of words, so his decision to subtitle his book on American Buddhism “White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation” was intentional. “’White supremacy’ is a loaded term and people may have a knee-jerk reaction to it,” he said, “but it was the term that best described the situation.”
His book — Race and Religion in American Buddhism — was published by Oxford University Press. The work is about the adaptation of Buddhist practices to the American context by both convert and ethnic Buddhists. “Previous studies address the ways in which Westerners have incorporated Buddhist practices to their own culture and how Asian immigrants have ‘transplanted’ their practices on American soil,” Cheah said.
These earlier studies make an assumption that Cheah challenges in the book: “I demonstrate that the adaptations of Buddhist practices have taken place within an environment already permeated with the logic and ideology of white supremacy.”
As such, he traces the legacy of white supremacy in American Buddhism and addresses the ways in which this ideology is present today.
Teaching and his pastoral duties at St. Ann’s Church keep Cheah busy, although he carves out time to write and to advocate for refugees. He is, by his own definition, living “the privilege of an academic life: engaging with many communities at the same time and being a part of something larger than myself. It both humbles me and gives meanings to my endeavors.”
Ph.D., Graduate Theological Union – Cultural and Historical Studies of Religions
M.A., Graduate Theological Union – Theology
M.Div., Franciscan School of Theology
B.S., University of Southern California