“For the beat generation,” Stephen Prothero wrote in 1991, “dissertation time is here. Magazine and newspaper critics have gotten in their jabs. Now scholars are starting to analyze the literature and legacy of the beat writers.” Prothero goes on to argue that scholars should take seriously the contribution Beat writers made to American religious history, and it is something of a foregone conclusion that this contribution includes perspectives inspired by Asian religious traditions. In rejecting what they viewed as the repressive climate of the 1950s, the Beats collectively “turned East” for inspiration; and some, notably Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg, explicitly sought inspiration from Buddhism. Despite Prothero’s plea, little scholarly work has been done on the Beat-Buddhism connection either in Buddhist studies or in the study of American religion. There may be a lingering bias against the Beats, the sense that their movement was nothing more than a short-lived and decadent rebellion against Eisenhower-era culture. Buddhist studies scholars often cringe at the way Beat writers misrepresent Buddhist teachings, and other critics have rightly pointed out the latent racism and sexism in early Beat writing. Nevertheless, the Beat generation influenced the development of US Buddhism in important and lasting ways. Many prominent Beat writers became leaders in established US Buddhist communities in the 1970s and 1980s, including the foundation by Ginsberg and Anne Waldman of the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics at the Buddhist Naropa University in Colorado. Moreover, many of the Beats’ early experiences with Buddhism were through connections to the already well-established Japanese-American Buddhist community in the San Francisco Bay Area, a subject well deserving of further research. The lion’s share of scholarly work on the Beat generation remains in literary criticism first and in American cultural history second. The contribution that Beat writers made to the history of US Buddhism thus remains an open field. The following bibliography is meant to be more selective than comprehensive, providing the researcher with entry points to more sustained research projects. See also Buddhism in the West (North America and Europe).
The origins of the Beat movement can be traced to two separate events. The first was during the mid-1940s when Kerouac, Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and others met while attending Columbia University. Their early friendships, poetry readings, and late-night discussions led to Kerouac coining the phrase “Beat generation” in 1948. The second event was a poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on 13 October 1955, a reading that included Ginsberg, Snyder, and Philip Whalen, among others, and one that was attended by Kerouac. Ginsberg read his epic protest poem “Howl,” which Kerouac depicted in The Dharma Bums, and the following obscenity trial surrounding the event thrust the Beat poets into the national spotlight. Below are historical overviews of the Beat generation to provide the researcher with a broader context for the movement. Ann Charters is a go-to source for scholarship on the Beat generation; Charters 1983 provides two full volumes of biographical sketches on most of the major and minor Beat figures. Hendin 2004 is a concise collection of essays on post–World War II culture more generally. Watson 1995 provides an accessible and heavily illustrated historical overview. Most critical work on the Beats comes from the field of literary criticism; Stephenson 1990 is a good entrée. Whaley 2004 contextualizes the work within the jazz movement and material culture. The Six Gallery reading was attended by writers and artists who did not considered themselves to be a part of the Beat generation; Davidson 1989 gives good context for the larger San Francisco Renaissance that overlaps with the Beat scene. Fields 1992 and Seager 1999 provide overviews of American Buddhism for the general reader. Not listed here are works that deal specifically with Japanese-American Buddhism, which are listed separately below.
Charters, Ann, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 16, The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983.
A comprehensive and essential encyclopedia of major and minor figures in the Beat movement as well as associated writers and thinkers. Provides a good overview of the lives of the Beat writers, edited by one of the foremost scholar in the field.
Davidson, Michael. The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
The Six Gallery reading marked a pivotal moment for the Beat generation, depicted in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. It was also an important event for the San Francisco Renaissance, a literary movement that both overlapped with and diverged from the Beats. Davidson’s work provides context for this movement.
Fields, Rick. How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America. 3d ed. Boston: Shambhala, 1992.
Something of a standard reference in the field, Fields provides a highly accessible narrative of Buddhism in the United States from the 19th century on. A full chapter is devoted to the Beats and their numerous connections to Buddhism and Buddhist thinkers, including, among others, Alan Watts and D. T. Suzuki.
Hendin, Josephine G., ed. A Concise Companion to Postwar American Literature and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.
Regina Weinreich’s contribution to this volume provides a good, succinct overview of the Beat movement. The volume as a whole provides excellent context for other mid-century literature and culture that the Beats were, at turns, influenced by and reacting against.
Seager, Richard Hughes. Buddhism in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Something of a textbook for the study of US Buddhism, an accessible book to contextualize the Beats within Buddhism proper. Seager addresses the Beats, drug culture, and material culture.
Stephenson, Gregory. The Daybreak Boys: Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.
Literary criticism essays that focus on major Beat writers as well as lesser-known figures. Stephenson explores the themes of the passage from darkness to light, myth, magic, primitivism, spontaneity, and improvisation within Beat literature.
Watson, Steven. The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944–1960. New York: Pantheon, 1995.
An illustrated history of the Beat generation that is an essential overview of the movement, its major characters, publications, and moments. Includes photographs, chronologies, maps, and bibliographies.
Whaley, Preston, Jr. Blows like a Horn: Beat Writing, Jazz, Style, and Markets in the Transformation of US Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
Places the Beat and counterculture movements in conversation with the contemporaneous jazz movement, tracing their development from jazz clubs and poetry readings to pop-cultural stereotypes of beatniks and hippies.
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- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese