Journal of Global History


‘Bonded by reverence toward the Buddha’: Asian decolonization, Japanese Americans, and the making of the Buddhist world, 1947–1965  *

Michael K. Masatsugu

Department of History, Towson University, Towson, MD 21252, USA E-mail:


This article examines Asian and Japanese American participation in a post-Second World War global movement for Buddhist revival. It looks at the role that Buddhism and the World Fellowship of Buddhists organization played in shaping transnational networks and the development of a global Buddhist perspective. It contextualizes the growth of a ‘Buddhist world’ within the history of decolonization and Japanese American struggles to reconstruct individual and community identities thoroughly disrupted by the war. The article considers Asian Buddhist approaches toward recognition as national and world citizens rather than colonial subjects and their influence on Japanese American Buddhists’ strategies for combating racial and religious discrimination in the United States. Finally, the article examines how Japanese Americans joined Asian efforts to formulate a distinctly Buddhist response to the Cold War. Buddhists hoped that Buddhism might serve as a ‘third power’ that would provide a critical check on a world increasingly polarized by Cold War politics and threatened by the prospects of nuclear war.


  • Cold War;
  • decolonization;
  • internment;
  • Japanese Americans;
  • world Buddhism


*  The author thanks Rebecca M. Brown, Andrew Diemer, Nicole Dombrowski-Risser, Benjamin Fischer, Cindy Gissendanner, Elizabeth Gray, Christian Koot, Meghan Mettler, Karen Oslund, Steven Phillips, Ronn Pineo, Akim Reinhardt, Allaire Stallsmith, Jon Wiener, Duncan Williams, Ben Zajicek, and the Journal of Global History's editors and anonymous referees for their insightful comments and suggestions.