UBEF Lecture Series | What’s Wrong with Studying Texts? Current Debates in the Field of Buddhist Studies
The Department of Indian Subcontinental Studies presents
University Buddhist Education Foundation (UBEF) Visiting Professorship in Buddhist Studies Lecture Series | Forum
What’s Wrong with Studying Texts? Current Debates in the Field of Buddhist Studies
Professor John Powers, UBEF Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies with Dr Mark Allon and Dr Jim Rheingans
Since its inception as an academic discipline in the 19th century, Buddhist Studies has been dominated by textual studies. J.W. de Jong once declared that “the study of Buddhism needs first of all to be concentrated on the texts” and characterised other disciplines within the field, including archaeology and anthropology, as “handmaidens” of literary work. In recent decades, increasing numbers of academics within the field pursue their work in other disciplines, but the majority still mainly concentrate on texts.
In recent decades, a number of people have questioned this hegemony, and some have characterised textual study as “colonialist”, an indefensible appropriation of the genius of other cultures, or as a form of theft in which western academics arrogantly position themselves as experts in relation to resources to which they have no legitimate right.
The three members of this panel work primarily on texts; each focuses on a particular area of research and is situated within a distinct discipline. Dr Mark Allon is one of the world’s leading experts on early Buddhist manuscripts from Gandhara (modern day Afghanistan). Dr Jim Rheingans is a historian of Tibet who reads texts as a means to reconstruct Tibet’s past, particularly with regard to a formative period that saw the inception of many of the most influential aspects of Tibetan society and religion. Professor John Powers is mainly concerned with the history of ideas and examines texts to reconstruct Buddhist doctrines and practices from the past and to compare propaganda disseminated by the People’s Republic of China to the ways in which adherents of the tradition view their religion and culture.
The forum will discuss what we do and how we might respond to fundamental questions regarding our work and the materials we employ in our research. In addition, we will discuss what the Buddhist traditions we study have to say regarding issues of cultural appropriation and colonial hegemony. Are there precedents within Buddhism for the sorts of controversies being debated in the field today? Do Asian Buddhists share the concerns of progressive westerners who want to protect them from academics who study their histories, philosophies, and literatures? Is any research on other cultures by outsiders a form or imperialism, or are there ways of doing this that are not guilty of colonialist attitudes?
About the speaker
John Powers is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and author of 18 books and more than 100 articles and book chapters, mainly focused on the Buddhist history of ideas in India and Tibet. His books include A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism (Harvard, 2009) and The Buddha Party: How the Chinese Communist Party Works to Define and Control Tibetan Buddhism (Oxford, 2015).
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For more information, contact: Dr Chris Clark – firstname.lastname@example.org
Also in the series:
28 October 2021 – Lecture 1. The Contested Middle: Tibetan Debates Regarding How to Understand Madhyamaka
4 November 2021 – Lecture 2. Can Ultimate Reality Change? The Three Natures/Three Characters Doctrine in Indian Yogācāra and Its Modern Interpreters
18 November 2021 – Public Lecture. Tibet’s Rivers and Climate Change: How Events in a Remote Area Affect Australia And the World
UBEF Visiting Professorship in Buddhist Studies
The University Buddhist Education Foundation (UBEF) Visiting Professorship in Buddhist Studies was established at the University of Sydney in 2009 through the generosity of the UBEF for the purpose of sponsoring an extended visit to Sydney of a distinguished international scholar in any field of Buddhist Studies in order to expose students and academics to current trends in research and to raise the profile of Buddhist Studies in Australia. It is administered by the Department of Indian Sub-continental Studies in the School of Languages and Cultures. Past recipients are Professors Peter Skilling (EFEO, 2009), Geoffrey Samuel (University of Cardiff, 2010), Karen Lang (Virginia, 2011), Bernard Faure (Columbia, 2012), David Eckel (Boston University, 2013), Richard Salomon (University of Washington, 2016), Lara Braitstein (McGill University, 2018) and Michael Zimmerman (University of Hamburg, 2019).