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Kamran Asdar Ali, Director WCH 4.132, Mailcode G9300, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-3550

Spring 2013

Buddhism's Boundaries

Friday, February 28 - March 2

Scholars of religion have long realized that the attempt to distinguish “religions” in micro-historical contexts creates problems, not only in South Asia. How exactly do we determine whether a specific religious practice, a certain concept, or another religious expression is “Buddhist,” “Hindu,” “Jain,” etc.? While some scholars claim that such distinctions are fundamentally problematic and anachronistic, historical studies show that things are more complex. For many people’s religious lives, past and present, drawing distinctions may indeed be rather irrelevant, but there is also ample evidence that at all times some people did determine their religious identities by demarcating the religious Other. Normatively distinguishing religious traditions is problematic, but we can examine the boundaries that are drawn by religious actors themselves in certain historical moments.

The papers of this conference present historical instances of how boundaries between Buddhism and other religions in South Asia are determined. General topics for the discussion are the form and location of such postulated boundaries; the ways in which they are constructed and interpreted by the actors; the motives and intentions behind the boundary-work (religious, social, political, economic, etc.); and the analysis of the thus-constructed religious identity and its relation to other identities (linguistic, spatial/regional/national, gender, class, etc.). Other important subjects of discussion include the possibility that multiple, even conflicting boundaries are drawn by different actors in one and the same historical situation, and that boundaries are unstable and shifting over time.

The goal of the conference is to refine methods for the analysis of religious boundary-work and identity construction. This may give reason to reconsider the actual subject matter of Buddhist Studies and, more generally, help scholars of religion scrutinize how they distinguish “religions” historically.

Participants (in alphabetical order) and working titles:

Dan Boucher (Cornell University)

"What is a Hinayana Zealot doing in Fifth-Century China?"

Ronald Davidson (Fairfield University):

“Mahāyāna Buddhist Lay Preachers: Buddhist, Brahmin, Both or Neither?”

Robert DeCaroli (George Mason University):

“The Taxonomy of Devotion: Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Approaches to Image-Use in the Early Period”

Christoph Emmrich (University of Toronto, Canada):

“Which Hinduism Is the Other? Which Buddhism Is Their Own? Bonds, Borders, and Boundaries Among the Newars, their Religions, and Their Interpreters”

Oliver Freiberger (UT Austin):

“The Hindu Buddha: Analyzing Religious Boundary-Work in Micro-Historical Contexts”

John Holt (Bowdoin College):

“From ‘Vertical Differences’ to ‘Horizontal Boundaries’”: Inclusivity and Exclusivity in 18th c. Sri Lanka”

Janice Leoshko (UT Austin):

“Religious Boundaries in Indian Buddhist Art”

Claire Maes (Ghent University, Belgium):

“The Dialectic of the Religious Other in the Pāli Vinaya”

Anne Monius (Harvard University):

“Boundaries, Buddhists, and Religious Others in the Tamil-Speaking South”

Patrick Olivelle (UT Austin):

“Authority of Buddhist Scriptures: Brāhmaṇical Viewpoints” 

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