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“There are many works on Japanese-American incarceration in World War Two—especially those that recount the government and the media’s perspective on this history—but American Sutra is the first to highlight the role that Buddhism played in this history, telling the story from the inside out.” Duncan Ryūken Williams

Please join us for a discussion on this recently published book American Sutra:A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War, with its author Duncan Ryūken Williams​. This groundbreaking history tells the little-known story of how, in one of our country’s darkest hours, Japanese Americans fought to defend their faith and preserve religious freedom.

In the face of discrimination, dislocation, dispossession, and confinement, Japanese Americans turned to their faith to sustain them, whether they were behind barbed wire in camps or serving in one of the most decorated combat units in the European theater. Using newly translated sources and extensive interviews with survivors of the camps and veterans of the war, American Sutra reveals how the Japanese American community broadened our country’s conception of religious freedom and forged a new American Buddhism.

Williams will also discuss how the issues in his book are being played out in the current climate of exclusionary immigration policies in the U.S. and around the world, and the recent organizing and demonstrations against the detaining migrant children led by the Buddhist community.

This program is sponsored by the Thích Nhất Hạnh Program for Engaged Buddhism

Author Bio

Duncan Ryuken Williams was born in Tokyo, Japan to a Japanese mother and British father. After growing up in Japan and England until age 17, he moved to the U.S. to attend college (Reed College) and graduate school (Harvard University, where he received a Ph.D. in Religion). Williams is currently a Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages & Cultures and the Director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture. Previously, he held the Shinjo Ito Distinguished Chair of Japanese Buddhism at the University of California at Berkeley and served as the Director of Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies for four years. He has also been ordained since 1993 as a Buddhist priest in the Soto Zen tradition and served as the Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University from 1994-96.

He is the author of a monograph entitled The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan(Princeton University Press, 2005) and co-editor of seven volumes including Hapa Japan (Kaya Press, 2017), Issei Buddhism in the Americas (U-Illinois Press, 2010), American Buddhism (Routledge, 1998), and Buddhism and Ecology (Harvard University Press, 1997). He has also translated four books from Japanese into English including Putting Buddhism to Work: A New Theory of Economics and Business Management (Kodansha, 1997). His latest book is American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War (Harvard University Press, 2019). He has previously received research grants from the American Academy of Religion, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Japan Foundation, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Numata Foundation/Society for the Promotion of Buddhism. In 2011, Williams received a commendation from the Japanese government for deepening the mutual understanding between the peoples of Japan and California.