The Buddha and The Cross: The Development of Buddhism in Ireland
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When one thinks of religion in Ireland, Christian, Celtic, and perhaps even Norman images are immediately brought to mind. Unlike many Asian countries (or the Bay Area of California for instance), Ireland is usually not associated with Buddhism. While comparatively speaking, Buddhism is a young religion in Ireland, it is developing rapidly and offering new religious, philosophical, and ethical alternatives to the country's religiously-disenchanted population, which has been long dominated by the rigorous institutionalization of the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland, and bloody conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The understudied, yet significant success of Buddhism's development in Ireland is due to many diverse factors including (but not limited to): the similarities between Buddhism and Celtic mythology; Ireland's rich literary history of meditative authors; the political benefits of an Irish appropriation of Asian religious thought; the strong, often stifling control of the Catholic Church; the recent fall of the Celtic Tiger and Ireland’s Economic Structure; and the wider societal perceptions of Buddhism as a philosophy, not a religion. Although there are many rural and urban Buddhist organizations of varying schools developing rapidly and gaining new membership throughout the country even as these words are being written, the religion's youth, central tenants, and philosophical features require it to, in essence, "prove itself" to most of Irish society. Thus, Irish Buddhism, like Chinese Buddhism in the decades following its arrival from India, is in a constantly changing, formative stage of existence as it strives for religious and societal authentication.