Date of Award

Summer 7-16-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Fisher, Gareth J.


Affect, Buddhism, Charity, Gender/sexuality, Urbanization, Vietnam

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | Religion | Social and Behavioral Sciences | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


My dissertation analyzes how and why volunteers joined or established grassroots Buddhist charities in Ho Chi Minh City. I spoke with approximately 400 members of 25 charities, focusing on seven main groups that shared an overlapping network of volunteers. My research includes perspectives from demographic groups often excluded from positions of authority in institutionalized Buddhism and, in turn, Buddhist studies scholarship, such as low-income day laborers, elderly women, Buddhist nuns at peri-urban temples, and a lay community of queer "same-gender-loving" [đồng tính] men. Despite their marginalization from formal leadership in Vietnam's state-managed National Buddhist Sangha, volunteers claimed social and moral authority in their communities as organizers of informal grassroots charities. Charities offered volunteers an opportunity to use Buddhist practices and worldviews to cope with the unique struggles they faced as gender and sexual minority populations and as people with deteriorating financial security in the shifting economy. Across chapters, I examine how each group's demographics affected volunteers' framings of altruism. I turn to Kathleen Stewart's concept of "worlding" to argue that Buddhist charities offered marginalized volunteers a way to respond to national trends of economic privatization and urbanization. Through worlding processes, volunteers use available moral resources – from religion and politics to pop culture – in cultivating ethical modes of existence together. Overall, my dissertation provides insights into how Buddhism functions as a highly adaptable tool for marginalized people to build resilient communities while responding to the complex social, political, and economic shifts driving urbanization across Southeast Asia.


Open Access

Available for download on Saturday, August 08, 2026