Sara Ann Swenson
- Assistant Professor
- Dartmouth College
“Sharing Hearts”: Buddhism, Social Services, and Privatization in Vietnam
Buddhism in Vietnam is adapting in response to the nation’s current trends toward privatization and urbanization. Buddhist nuns and lay practitioners are actively working to address emerging social service needs by organizing new charity programs across Ho Chi Minh City. These contemporary volunteer groups are especially attractive to Vietnam’s younger generation. My ethnographic research compares lay and monastic interpretations of “suffering” in reviving Vietnamese Buddhist volunteerism. This revival of Buddhist volunteerism builds on the history of Humanitarian and Engaged Buddhist movements in Vietnam, but is uniquely apolitical and individualistic in its focus on generating interpersonal connections between donors and recipients as the most effective way to alleviate “suffering.”
Near Light We Shine: Buddhist Charity and Urbanization in Vietnam
Practicing charity is a popular trend Vietnam. While Vietnam is one of the fastest developing countries in Asia, its rapid economic and urban growth has divided the poor and wealthy while straining public infrastructure. In response, charity volunteers are building roads, subsidizing medicine, and feeding the homeless. Swenson's ethnographic research analyzes why and how people join these vital movements. She found that Buddhism, Vietnam’s dominant religion, compels followers to practice altruism. Yet, no major studies examine how Buddhism impacts grassroots humanitarianism in developing countries. "Near Light We Shine: Buddhist Charity and Urbanization", will show how Buddhist charities offer volunteers a way to find hope and build communities as they navigate the changes sweeping Vietnam.