Since its Western rediscovery in the nineteenth century, Buddhism has been the focus of the study of Asian religions. Apart from philosophical reasons, this is because Buddhist teaching has profoundly influenced all Asian cultures. Furthermore, Buddhist studies has acquired a theoretical sophistication that puts it at the forefront of the study of Asian religions. We no longer conceive of Buddhism as simply a peerless philosophical, ethical, and/or meditative system. Western scholarship has been able to break away from the normative vision entertained by Asian scholars, while it continues to draw on their philological work.
The object “Buddhism” can no longer be taken for granted. A cultural approach leads us to question radically the traditional, doctrine-oriented view. By culture, we mean two things: the anthropological notion of culture and its theoretical impact on the study of religion; and the specific cultures of Asia and their influence on Asian religions. A better understanding of religious phenomena requires a shift in focus away from traditional categories to subjects that cut across sectarian lines.
When we bracket the normative views of sectarian scholarship and open research to the methodological and theoretical insights of other academic disciplines, we find a complex of rituals, beliefs, practices, and images in which the line between Buddhism and other religions is no longer clear. It is time to abandon the notion of a pristine tradition, whose problematic essence it would be the scholar’s duty to retrieve. In other words, Buddhist history needs to become more anthropological, just as Buddhist anthropology needs to become more historical. One of the goals of our series will be to integrate these various perspectives.
A related goal is to break the splendid isolation of Asian religious studies by taking Asian religions out of the ghettos of “Eastern spirituality,” “Orientalism,” or even disciplinary compartments such as “Asian Studies” and “Religious Studies,” into the broader discursive field of the Humanities. We will emphasize the merits of a truly interdisciplinary approach, aiming through this theoretical pluralism to redefine, or even reinvent, Buddhism and Asian religions as “plural” or “differential” traditions.
This series is closed.