“Sharing Hearts”: Buddhism, Social Services, and Privatization in Vietnam


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


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.”