Buddhism in Britain

“Buddhism in Britain” is a four-part series exploring how Buddhism has evolved in the UK, featuring insights from Dr. Caroline Starkey, a sociologist of religion at the University of Leeds. Starkey’s work focuses on how Buddhism intersects with British society, examining its history, cultural adaptations, and current trends.

Introduction to Dr. Caroline Starkey’s Work

Dr. Caroline Starkey, an associate professor at the University of Leeds, studies how Buddhism fits into modern British society. Her research spans diverse areas, including the Chinese diaspora, women in Buddhism, and community practices. Starkey’s work is shaped by her ethnographic approach, which involves direct engagement with Buddhist communities.

Series Overview

  1. Colonial Beginnings:
    • The series starts with how Buddhism and British society first met during the colonial period.
  2. Post-Empire Dynamics:
    • It then explores the experiences of Chinese Buddhists in Britain, especially after the British Empire’s end in Hong Kong.
  3. Modern Trends:
    • The series concludes by looking at contemporary Buddhist practices in Britain, from secular mindfulness to how social class affects Buddhists today.

The Evolution of Buddhist Studies

Traditionally, Buddhist Studies focused on ancient texts and artifacts. However, there is growing attention on living Buddhist communities, both in historical Buddhist regions and in the West. This shift highlights the importance of studying how people practice Buddhism today, rather than just its historical roots.

Britain’s Role in Buddhism’s Modern Spread

The UK has a deep history with Buddhism, influenced by its colonial past and ongoing postcolonial dynamics. Understanding this relationship helps explain how Buddhism fits into today’s rapidly changing, post-industrial society. Starkey’s expertise provides valuable insights into these complex interactions.

Dr. Starkey’s Interdisciplinary Approach

As a sociologist, Starkey’s research covers various aspects of Buddhism in Britain, including gender issues, community practices, and the experiences of British converts. Her notable works include a national survey of Buddhist and Jain buildings and her book, Women in British Buddhism: Commitment, Connection, Community.

Navigating Personal and Professional Identities

Starkey, a practicing Buddhist, grapples with balancing her religious identity and her role as a scholar. She believes that it’s important to acknowledge how personal perspectives influence academic work. This dual perspective enriches her research and provides deeper insights into the communities she studies.

From Asia to Britain: A Personal Journey

Starkey’s background, growing up in various Asian countries surrounded by Buddhist practices, gives her a unique perspective. She contrasts this with her experiences of Buddhism in Britain, which often felt foreign compared to the communal and ritualistic practices she knew from her childhood.

The Ordinary in British Buddhism

Starkey is particularly interested in the everyday practitioners of Buddhism—the “rank and file” who sustain its practice. Her research often focuses on these less prominent figures, exploring how they contribute to Buddhism’s presence and evolution in Britain.

Changing Spaces and Practices

In recent years, the way people engage with Buddhism in the UK has changed significantly. With the rise of the internet and the impacts of COVID-19, many now participate in Buddhist practices online rather than in physical spaces. Starkey notes that this shift is leading to a more individualized approach to spirituality, moving away from traditional institutions.

Matt Bianca


“Buddhism in Britain” traces the journey of Buddhism from its colonial introduction to its current form, shaped by modern technology and cultural shifts. Through this series, Dr. Starkey sheds light on how Buddhism has adapted and continues to evolve in the UK. The next part will delve into Buddhism’s roots in Britain during the era of empire and trade.

Posts and articles are the views of their authors and not necessarily of the XR Buddhists group.

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