Out Now

A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War


Publisher: Harvard University Press
Release Date: February 19, 2019


LA Times Photo [Molly Hennessy-Fiske].jpeg

A Letter Asking Buddhist Leaders to Support Tsuru for Solidarity

Fort Sill and the Incarceration of Japanese “Enemy Aliens” during World War II

Morning “Press Conference” at Fort Sill with the Tsuru for Solidarity Organizer Mike Ishii Guiding the Group Before the Military Police Arrived [Molly Hennessy-Fiske, LA Times]


Watch the American Sutra Book Trailer with George Takei Below

This groundbreaking history tells the little-known story of how, in one of our country’s darkest hours, Japanese Americans fought to defend their faith and preserve religious freedom. The mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is not only a tale of injustice; it is a moving story of faith. In this path-breaking account, Duncan Ryuken Williams reveals how, even as they were stripped of their homes and imprisoned in camps, Japanese American Buddhists launched one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom in our nation’s history, insisting that they could be both Buddhist and American.


Buddhist Protest of Inhumane Treatment of Migrant Children

Buddhist Clergy and Lay Leaders Join Tsuru for Solidarity and Dream Action Oklahoma at Fort Sill, Oklahoma (July 20, 2019). Video by Evan Kodani


"Because We Looked Like The Enemy"

A Production of Adamant Media
Armando Aparicio and Leighton Woodhouse


“Buddha In The Searchlights” by No-No Boy

“Buddha In The Searchlights” was commissioned for Williams’ “American Sutra” book talk at the Futures Without Violence gallery (San Francisco Presidio) on February 24, 2019, in conjunction with the gallery’s exhibition “Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties” (on view until May 27, 2019).


Hi friends!

The launch period has entered a new phase: readership. As a way of highlighting enthusiasm from public events & to keep the conversation about #AmericanSutra in motion, I’d love it if you would share comments & reflections on either Amazon or Goodreads.




American Sutra tells the story of how Japanese American Buddhist families like mine survived the wartime incarceration. Their loyalty was questioned, their freedom taken away, but their spirit could never be broken. A must-read for anyone interested in the implacable quest for civil liberties, social and racial justice, religious freedom, and American belonging.”

George Takei
actor, director, and activist

“A pioneering work on the history of Japanese Americans during WWII—an instant classic.”

Tetsuden Kashima
author of
Judgment without Trial

“Duncan Williams’s book is deep, detailed, and timely, especially at a time when the meaning of ‘citizenship’ in America is still unsettled.”

Gary Snyder
author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Turtle Island

“By recounting the struggle of those interned to maintain their faith and traditions in the face of an unforgivable assault on both, American Sutra tells a larger tale of how America’s storied commitment to religious freedom so often clashes with its history of white, Christian exceptionalism. Reading this book, one cannot help but think of the current racial and religious tension that have gripped this nation—and shudder.”

Reza Aslan
author of
Zealot and God: A Human History


“In his revealing new history of Japanese American internment, Williams foregrounds the Buddhist dimension of the Japanese American experience. His moving account shows how Japanese Americans transformed Buddhism into an American religion, and, through that struggle, changed the United States for the better.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen
author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning
The Sympathizer

American Sutra movingly and insightfully tells the long-buried true history of the ordeals suffered and triumphs achieved by Japanese American Buddhist individuals unjustly dispossessed and interned during WWII who drew on their Buddhist faith to remain loyal to the nation. I cannot recommend this compelling work highly enough for anyone who faces clearly the present-day conflicts of identities and yet aspires to a twenty-first-century vision of America’s still-possible promise for the world.

Robert A. F. Thurman
Columbia University

American Sutra is a critically important, carefully researched, and deeply moving work of scholarship and storytelling that brings to light—from a dark and shameful period in our nation’s past—a forgotten part of our religious and cultural history. This book raises timely and important questions about what religious freedom in America truly means.”

Ruth Ozeki
author of
A Tale for the Time Being


American Sutra Events


Bonus Material

List of the over 600 Shinto, Buddhist, and Christian priests and ministers in the WWII camps.


Rev. Shozen Naito locking up the doors to the Buddhist temple in Florin, California as he is forcibly removed by the U.S. Army to an incarceration camp

National Archives and Records Administration, 1942


Media Inquiries

We welcome media inquires about the book and author. Members of the press are invited to email Duncan with questions or for interviews.


Book Cover Press Images

Includes high-resolution cover art.

Author Press Images

Includes high-resolution author photos.


More Books