On the classification of the Buddhist convert communities





sociology of religion, Buddhism, sectology, Neo-Buddhism, religious conversion


This article is focused on the organizational classification of the European Buddhist communities that appeared in different post-Christian countries in the late 20th century. The author argues that the conceptual framework of the modern religious studies is lacking appropriate terminology to define Buddhist religious groups and organizations.For the purpose of this article, three organizations operating in the Republic of Belarus are considered: the Buddhist religious community «Shen Chen Ling» of the Bon tradition, the Dzogchen Community and the Center for Buddhist Culture and Traditions (known as «Diamond Way Buddhism- Karma Kagyu Lineage»). All these organizations have quite unique and poorly studied forms of organization of their adherents within the communities, not typical for the traditional Buddhist regions.They can be referred to as sects, cults, Neo-Buddhism, modernized or unconventional Buddhism in the scientific literature, depending on the position of the authors. However, these concepts, often applied without reflecting thinking, do not always capture the essence of the phenomenon. A better designation would be «convert communities» used in sociology to define people who converted to a religion not typical for their place of residence.The author pays attention to a particular form or model of Buddhism which can be determined as «Western Buddhism» and should be distinguished from Buddhism in the West which was not adapted for Europeans. The following methods of data collection were used in the present study: participant observation, field and expert interviews, questionnaires, documentary research and content analysis of the websites of Buddhist convert groups.