Killing the Buddha

Jonathan VanAntwerpen
3 min readMay 16, 2021
Jonathan VanAntwerpen and John D. Boy at Killing the Buddha’s 10th Anniversary Party in DUMBO, Brooklyn
Killing the Buddha’s Tin Anniversary Spectacular, Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, Brooklyn (December 2010)

From the archives (2010): Jonathan VanAntwerpen and John D. Boy at Killing the Buddha’s 10th anniversary party in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

Established in November 2000 by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau, Killing the Buddha launched with a manifesto inviting readers “both hostile and drawn to talk of God” to join its editors in “building an electronic Tower of Babel, a Talmudic cathedral of stories about faith lost and found.” This was a religion magazine, wrote the editors, “for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the ‘spirituality’ section of a bookstore.”

Experimental and edgy, Killing the Buddha was a forerunner in the world of digital publishing about religion. When we laid plans to launch The Immanent Frame several years later, Killing the Buddha was one of the early innovators we had in view. (Read the four essays that launched Killing the Buddha here. For more on the origins and founding of The Immanent Frame, see “An interview with Jonathan VanAntwerpen — Imagining The Immanent Frame.”)

As The Immanent Frame would later do, Killing the Buddha sought to productively connect digital and print culture. Published in 2004 by Free Press, Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible gathered contributions from a range of contributors to killingthebuddha.com, including Rick Moody, Francine Prose, and others. A second volume, Believer, Beware: First-Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith (co-edited by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau and published by Beacon Press in 2009), presented “true tales of sex ed in Catholic school, witches in Kansas, sects and the city, Buddhists in the barbershop, Sufis under your nose, an adolescent Jewish messiah in Queens, and more.”

In 2011, Killing the Buddha joined forces with The Immanent Frame to launch the experimental digital project Frequencies. The collaboration was in no small part a result of the efforts of Nathan Schneider, a KtBnik who was importantly involved in the early work of The Immanent Frame.

The product of a project on “spirituality, political engagement and public life” — funded by the Ford Foundation and housed in the Social Science Research Council’s program on Religion in the Public SphereFrequencies was co-curated by Kathryn Lofton and John Lardas Modern. Figuring spirituality “as a cultural technology, as a diverse reverberation, as a frequency in the ether of experience,” Frequencies was imagined at the outset as “a collaborative genealogy of spirituality.”

The site’s initial location in the .es domain was the result of John D. Boy’s creativity. While that location did not last, the name for the site resonated and its digital existence endured, becoming a partial inspiration for the invention of Reverberations, launched a couple of years later by the editors of The Immanent Frame. As she had with Frequencies, sociologist of religion Courtney Bender played a leading role in the interdisciplinary initiative (this time on practices of prayer across multiple religious traditions) that stood behind much of the writing Reverberations would go on to publish.

Celebrating Killing the Buddha’s 10th anniversary in December 2010, I wasn’t thinking much about prayer. But the night, as I recall it, was humming along. Gangstagrass (“serious bluegrass picking and sick flow on the mic”) took the stage, and Quince Mountain (Worldwide College of Auctioneering Class of ’96) officiated over a live auction. I still have the rock climbing Jesus we took home when the evening was over.

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Jonathan VanAntwerpen

Jonathan VanAntwerpen is a program director at the Henry Luce Foundation. Originally trained as a philosopher, he holds a Ph.D. in sociology from UC-Berkeley.