Buddhism Buddhism in Australia
Michelle Barker
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0272


Buddhism comprised 2.4 percent of the Australian population at the most recent census in 2016. While reflection on Buddhism’s growth in Australia is recorded as early as 1961, the first major body of work in the field was documentation of the early history in Buddhism in Australia, 1848–1988 (Croucher 1989 [cited under History]). The study of Buddhism in Australia has grown since the 1990s, with a small number of books and academic theses now available. An edited volume, Buddhism in Australia: Traditions in Change (Rocha and Barker 2011) [cited under Overviews]) provides a significant addition in showcasing a broad range of work from researchers and leading teachers. “Bibliography: Buddhism in Australia” (Fitzpatrick, et al. 2012 [cited under History]) provides a bibliography of all the works in the field that records more than ninety academic publications and forty other resources. A total of forty of these were completed between 2003 and 2012, and it would be reasonable to assume that approximately forty more have been added from 2012 to 2021, suggesting that there are now more than 175 studies relevant to this field. This review of key works in the field focuses on five areas: Overviews, History, Major Schools, Buddhist Identity, and Expressions of Buddhism. The history section ranges from historical overviews to community profiles, culminating in the exploration in “The Buddhist Council of Victoria and the Challenges of Recognizing Buddhism as a Religion in Australia” (Cousens 2011 [cited under History]) on the efforts to encourage government recognition of Buddhism as a designated religion in Australia. As for many countries in Europe and North America, a wide range of Buddhist schools took root through various means, and examination of these has increased to enable the section on major schools to encompass at least one work on most major traditions, often by researchers who are also practitioners. Consideration of the diversity of Buddhist traditions represented in Australia leads into the section Buddhist Identity, which includes studies on both immigrant identity and conversion in relation to Buddhist practice. The final section contains references dealing with how aspects of Buddhist teachings have been expressed in practice, including feminism, engaged Buddhism, and incorporation into Australian education systems. “Women and Ultramodern Buddhism in Australia” (Halafoff, et al. 2018 [cited under Expressions of Buddhism]) provides a valuable update and new perspective on the role of women in Australian Buddhist history, and The Buddha Is in the Street: Engaged Buddhism in Australia (Sherwood 2003 [cited under Expressions of Buddhism]) illustrates expressions of engaged Buddhism in the Australian context.


The number of academic analyses of aspects of Buddhism in Australia reflects the small size of both the Buddhist community and the broader Australian population. Several comprehensive overviews consider a breadth of topics, mostly notably an edited collection, Rocha and Barker 2011. This is a key work in the area, with some of the chapters also meriting specific mention in this article to reference research not published elsewhere. Barker 2017 provides the most recent high-level analysis of recent developments, and Halafoff, et al. 2012 considers where more work is needed.

  • Barker, Michelle. “Buddhism in Australia and Oceania.” In The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism. Edited by Michael Jerryson, 360–381. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199362387.013.37

    This analysis of Buddhism’s development profiles the history of transnational global flows in these regions, reinforcing understanding of the degree to which the evolution of Buddhism in these countries is closely tied to immigration and travel.

  • Barker, Michelle, and Sally McAra. “Buddhism in Australia and New Zealand: Antipodean Dharma.” In 2600 Years of Sambuddhatva: Global Journey of Awakening. Edited by Oliver Abeynayake and Asanga Tilakaratne, 557–568. Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, Sri Lanka: Ministry of Buddhasasana and Religious Affairs, Government of Sri Lanka, 2011.

    While Buddhism in Australia and New Zealand is similar to that found in European and North American countries, this work assesses how it differs in these two countries, particularly with regard to engaged Buddhism, the influence of Buddhist material culture, and links with indigenous spirituality.

  • Halafoff, Anna, Ruth Fitzpatrick, and Kim Lam. “Buddhism in Australia: An Emerging Field of Study.” Journal of Global Buddhism 13 (2012): 9–25.

    This paper explores the degree to which contemporary scholarship on Buddhism in Australia could be considered an emerging field of study, concluding that a comprehensive analysis of Buddhism in Australia is yet to be conducted.

  • Rocha, Cristina, and Michelle Barker, eds. Buddhism in Australia: Traditions in Change. Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism. London: Routledge, 2011.

    This contribution analyzes the arrival and localization of Buddhism in Australia in the context of the globalization of Buddhism. Both academic reviews and practitioner experiences are included to show adaptations of Buddhism to Australia and corresponding challenges. Available online for purchase.

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