Varieties of Buddhist Healing in Multiethnic Philadelphia

Foshou temple in Philadelphia Chinatown

This project explores the impact of Buddhism — its doctrines, practices, and cultural orientations — on the healthcare landscape of Philadelphia. The study seeks to bring continually overlooked non-white and non-English-speaking voices into the contemporary conversation about Buddhism and healthcare. Pedagogically, it provides the opportunity for students to engage in experiential learning about the range of religions and health orientations in a modern cosmopolitan city.

Since 2014, small teams of undergraduate student researchers have been visiting targeted locations throughout the Greater Philadelphia area and have conducted interviews with monastics, teachers, or community representatives. Participant observation fieldwork in many cases has been facilitated by student "cultural liaisons," who themselves are members of the cultural-linguistic group best represented at the temple, and who have been able to facilitate cultural awareness and offer some basic translation assistance when necessary. Ethnographic information and audiovisual materials have been integrated into a Google map that showcases Philadelphia's Buddhist diversity (below).

Interviews have focused on discovering connections between Buddhism and health. Preliminary findings have revealed that different approaches to Buddhist healing prevail in different ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic contexts around the city. My analysis of these differences is informed by previous scholarly attempts to model American Buddhism (Cheah 2011; Numrich 2005, 2006; Baumann 2002; Hickey 2010); however, I have found that no previously proposed model can adequately capture the diversity on the ground in this one city. While my research addresses the issue of how to model this diversity, I am equally interested in placing Philadelphia within the context of global contemporary Buddhism. This study has uncovered both parallels with and direct connections to Buddhist healthcare institutions in Asia, some of which we have been able to trace with follow-up field work conducted abroad.

Through the course of this research, Philadelphia has been revealed as an “Indra’s Net,” where thick description of local detail leads further and further afield via increasingly expansive webs of global interconnectivity. Thus, close attention to the practices, material culture, and aural and visual experience of Buddhist healing in Philadelphia provides a perfect launching-off point for the exploration of the diverse ways that aspects of Buddhism are being used as health practices at both the local and transnational scales.




Baumann, M. 2006. Protective Amulets and Awareness Techniques, or How to Make Sense of Buddhism in the West. In C.S. Prebish and M. Baumnn (eds.), Westward Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cheah, J. 2011. Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hickey, W.S. 2010. Two Buddhisms, Three Buddhisms, and Racism. Journal of Global Buddhism 11: 1–25.

Numrich, P. D. 2005. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in America’s ‘Two Buddhisms.’ In Linda L. Barnes and Susan S. Sered (eds.), Religion and Healing in America. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 2006. Two Buddhisms Further Considered. In D. Keown (ed.), Buddhist Studies From India to America: Essays in Honor of Charles S. Prebish. New York: Routledge.

Salguero, C. P. 2015. Toward a Global History of Buddhism and Medicine. Buddhist Studies Review 32.1: 35–61.

Wilson, Jeff. 2014. Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wu, Hongyu. 2002. Buddhism, Health, and Healing in a Chinese Community., last accessed 11 Jun. 2015.


Project Design and P.I.: Dr. Pierce Salguero (Associate Professor of Asian History and Religious Studies, Penn State University)

Student Research Coordinators: Paola Xhuli, Ryan Rose

Student Researchers: Ashley Cole, Patrick Kim, Alex Medina, Vinh Pham, Angelina Wu, Jane Yeung

Research Assistants: Gilbert Charles, Christina Chen, Duyen Hy, Patrick Kim, Sungsim Kim, Meihang Lim, Vinh Pham, students from various Religious Studies and Asian Studies classes.



All content in this project was produced by C. Pierce Salguero and the above collaborators, and are offered here under a Creative Commons license. They may be copied, distributed, or displayed for non-commercial purposes as long as this website is attributed. Any derivative works must be released under the same terms.