There is little reckoning with the development of religions in the United States without confronting the related processes of importation and appropriation. This article explores these processes specifically as reflected in the story of the San Francisco Zen Center. Partaking of an interpretative ethos established by the nineteenth-century Transcendentalists and refined during the 1950s "Zen boom," the architects of the SFZC's communalism shaped this complicated tradition specifically for disaffected young practitioners seeking an experiential path beyond their middleclass, Judeo-Christian backgrounds. It was during the 1983 scandals surrounding SFZC leader, Richard Baker-roshi, that many of the interpretive lacunae——specifically, a relative inattention to ethical languages——became readily apparent. This article accounts for these scandals historically (by situating them in the history of American appropriations of Buddhism and of the religious disaffection of the post-World War II period) and theoretically (by reading the SFZC's patterns of transmission and interpretation through the category "interpretative double movement). This double movement among practitioners captures the ways in which those in search of an alternative to their religious culture impose their own idiosyncratic values onto another religious tradition, all the while remaining paradoxically within the interpretive confines of the culture they hope to escape. Reading this complicated history——including both its "scandals" and their aftermaths——through such categories sheds light on the ways in which American religious exchanges are enacted and identities constructed.
- ©© 2007 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture