Buddhist Buildings in England: Conserving and Constructing Heritage(s)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Caroline STARKEY, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Emma TOMALIN, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
In this paper, we investigate the ways in which Buddhist communities in England interpret their religious heritage through an analysis of the buildings they inhabit. Buddhism is a growing religion in Britain, and Buddhist centres and temples are becoming an increasingly common sight, particularly in urban areas. Many Buddhist communities have chosen to renovate old, and often dilapidated, buildings (many of which are ‘listed’ as architecturally significant). These include a Victorian Fire Station, a Court House, stately homes, a former convent, and an industrial factory. Drawing on data from the first national survey of Buddhist buildings in England which we conducted with English Heritage, we argue that Buddhists in this context engage in a dual process of heritage building. In this process, which is both conscious and unconscious (and indeed, varies between groups), Buddhist communities adopt decorative styles and building functions imported from outside of England but also seek to preserve an ‘English’ aesthetic in their sympathetic adaptation and preservation of buildings. We argue that Buddhist communities in England are deliberately constructing a ‘new’ Buddhist heritage for England but at the same time, they are conserving an English past, which has wider public benefit beyond the Buddhist groups themselves. Whilst the idea of the adaptation of Buddhist practice to various global contexts has been well documented by scholars, we offer a novel way of examining this phenomena, as the built environment is a neglected area in studies of Buddhism in the West.  Furthermore, this ongoing process of conservation and construction is, in fact, part of Buddhist practice for many of these communities, who view the difficulties in adapting old buildings as a means to promote mindfulness and community cohesion.  Heritage is, in this context, a material thing that can be observed and preserved, but is also a living religious practice.