Murmurs and Yelps: Buddhist Ethical Soundscapes in Vietnam

Murmurs and Yelps: Buddhist Ethical Soundscapes in Vietnam


Sara A. Swenson, Assistant Professor in Asian Religions, Dartmouth College

“Homage to Buddha!” [Mô Phật] my friend exclaimed as she burned her finger on a hot pan. The exclamation transformed her moment of surprised fear into a moment of devoted practice. In Vietnam, lay and monastic practitioners incorporate the name of the Buddha into daily greetings, activities, and utterances. Influenced by Pure Land Buddhism, practitioners explain that such exclamations can have a positive or protective effect both on speakers and on their surrounding environments. For example, murmuring the names of Siddhartha Gautama or Amitabha Buddha may guard speakers against sudden accidents or lurking ghosts. In this paper, I adapt Charles Hirschkind’s theory of “ethical soundscapes” to analyze how Buddhists use micro-recitations to actualize moral worlds in Vietnam. While Hirschkind theorizes Muslim practices of playing cassette sermons aloud in Cairo, I compare how the subtler phenomena of Buddhist utterances and exclamations carry an equally powerful but distinct cosmological significance in Ho Chi Minh City.

Dr. Sara A. Swenson is an Assistant Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College. Her research focuses on religious humanitarianism and contemporary Buddhism in Vietnam. Swenson completed her Ph.D. in Religion from Syracuse University in 2021. She holds an M.Phil. in Religion (Syracuse University, 2016), a Certificate of Advanced Study in Women’s and Gender Studies (Syracuse University, 2015), an M.A. in Comparative Religion (Iliff School of Theology, 2012), and a B.A. in English (University of Minnesota Duluth, 2009).

 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022
12:00 Noon

Room 203, Luce Hall
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