Alfred Bloom is a pioneer of Jodo Shinshu studies in the English-speaking world. Born at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1926 Bloom was the youngest child of a Jewish father. At the time of Alfred Bloom’s birth, his mother had been a recent convert to a fundamentalist tradition of Christianity. After enlisting in the army 1944, Bloom studied Japanese at the University of Pennsylvania and saw service in occupied Japan.
His experiences at the time encouraged an awareness of human rights and social justice. During this time he also played a role in promoting fundamentalist Christianity and encountered the concept of Amida Buddha when a Christian minister explained a passage from the Christian scriptures by using Amida Buddha by way of analogy.
Bloom began his academic life at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (BA., Th.B.) from 1947 to 1951. During this time he began to question and then to abandon the fundamentalist approach to the Bible which he had previously held. He completed his theological training at Andover Newton Theological School (B.D., S.T.M.) in 1953. He later encountered the teachings of Shinran while studying Japanese language and (Chinese) Buddhism at the Harvard Yenching Institute and gained his Doctorate with a thesis on Shinran’s Life and Thought in 1963.
From 1959 to 1961 Bloom was Proctor for Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, and Teaching Fellow in History of Religion, Harvard Divinity School. For a time, in 1961, he was lecturer in the History of religion at Newton Junior College.
From 1961 to 1970, Professor Bloom was Associate Professor of Religion, Department of religion at the University of Hawaii Manoa campus. Continuing his work at Manoa, he eventually took up the post of Professor of Religion there in 1974. From 1986 to 1988 he served for the Institute of Buddhist studies, Berkeley, California, as Dean as well as Honganji Professor of Shin Buddhism.
During his life as a thinker, educator and Jodo Shinshu priest, Dr Bloom has inspired others to explore the teaching of Shinran and has brought renewed insight and encouragement to some traditional followers. Perhaps his distinctive contribution has been to draw out, from Shinran’s writing and the Jodo Shinshu tradition, important possibilities in relation to engaged Buddhism.
Bloom has written a vast number of reviews and articles for academic and scholarly journals, and contributed many introductions and reviews of the work of fellow scholars.