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Buddhism Unit

Call for Proposals

The Buddhism Unit welcomes proposals for Papers Sessions, Roundtables, and Individual Papers in all areas of the study of Buddhism. To encourage greater exchange among the various subfields within Buddhist Studies, we are particularly interested in sessions that confront enduring problems in the study of Buddhism, raise important theoretical or methodological issues, and/or bring fresh materials or perspectives to bear on themes of broad interest, especially those that address multiple regions and/or time periods. All proposals should demonstrate their coherence and significance in language accessible to the Steering Committee, which includes individuals working on diverse aspects of Buddhism. We are also committed to diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, rank, institutions, etc. WISAR ( is an excellent resource for ensuring gender balance. 

For Individual Papers this year, although everyone is welcome to submit a proposal, we are prioritizing contributions by graduate students and/or postdocs. Four Individual Papers will be chosen for an omnibus session entitled “New Work in Buddhist Studies.” Please do not submit a paper as both an Individual Paper Proposal and as part of a Papers Session Proposal. 

All AAR sessions are now 90 minutes or 2 hours in length. If you wish, you may indicate which time-length you have in mind for a session, but we cannot guarantee it. 

We welcome proposals on this year’s Presidential Theme, “La Labor de Nuestras Manos" (focusing on the work that scholars do beyond the production of scholarly monographs read by a small audience of people), or proposals that relate in some way to the location of the Annual Meeting (San Antonio, Texas). 

Below are some of the themes that our members have proposed for the 2023 meeting, but please also feel free to submit a proposal on topics not represented on this list. If you are interested in contributing to a proposal on one of these topics, please contact the organizer directly. 


Buddhism as a Category (Oliver Freiberger, University of Texas at Austin, — Considering that many scholars of religion question the “traditions approach” that often reifies and essentializes religions, this panel asks: What kind of work do the terms “Buddhism” and “Buddhist” do for us – both in our research and our teaching? Which problems, if any, might the plural “Buddhisms” solve? How do scholars of religion draw boundaries between “Buddhism” and “non-Buddhism”? How does Buddhist Studies position itself in relation to Religious Studies? Might these two (overlapping) scholarly discourses have different answers to any or all of these questions?


Digital Space, Virtual Sangha, and Globally Networked Asian (Chinese) American Buddhist Communities (Xiao Han, Université du Québec à Montréal, — 

Potential co-sponsorship with Buddhism in the West Unit 

Until recently, most scholarship on Buddhism in North America privileged the study of institutionalized Buddhist organizations. Few attempts have been made to study the lived experiences of ordinary North American Chinese Buddhists and, more importantly, their lived religious practices in digital environments. Scholars have highlighted the idea of “global Buddhism” in the past decade, arguing that Buddhism in the West must be viewed as part of a worldwide transformational process. With the exponential development of digital technology, a global Buddhism approach has expanded and now encompasses the digital world, along with many issues such as digital Buddhist community and identity formation, digital rituals, digital Buddhist education, and the authenticity of digital Buddhist practices. Was the digital Buddhist community just a short-lived necessity, or is this the general direction of the future of Buddhist communities in North America? What does it mean to be globally networked Chinese Buddhist communities in a digital world?


Crafting Efficacy in Buddhist Ritual Worlds (James Gentry, Stanford University, — This panel considers the hands-on work of what makes for a felt sense of ritual efficacy and potency across the Buddhist world by examining the roles of materials and the skilled practices of craftspeople and ritual experts who work with them. Drawing on Timothy Ingold’s call to go beyond the abstract category of “materiality” to focus instead on concrete physical practices with specific materials and their idiosyncratic properties and situated histories, this panel seeks scholars of any Buddhist tradition, region, and time period interested in discussing together the tangible material ways in which Buddhist rituals are felt to bring about their outcomes, and how and why rituals sometimes fail to do so—case studies can be based on historical, ethnographic, art historical, or any other methodological approach, and can pertain to research areas as diverse as Buddhist art, medicine, ritual, contemplative practice, literature, or doctrine.


Preaching Buddhism: Ideals, Figures, and Practices (Xiaoming Hou, U.C. Berkeley, or Sinae Kim, Princeton University, — What are the roles of preaching and preachers in Buddhism? What do different genres of Buddhist literature tell us about the ideals and practices of Buddhist preaching culture? How might investigating Buddhist preaching inspire us to reexamine some of the dichotomies that have structured our field (lay/monastic, theory/practice, oral/written, canonical/non-canonical, etc.)? This panel seeks to address these questions across different cultures of Buddhist preaching, both temporally and geographically.


Storytelling in Buddhist Studies (Vanessa Sasson, Marianopolis College,; Kristin Scheible, Reed College, — Telling the Buddha's story—be it through narrative, performance, ritual, or art—is a key feature of the tradition. Connecting to this year’s presidential theme, which invites us to think of new ways of engaging the public, this roundtable invites scholars to discuss the role storytelling plays in the field, and how we might tell Buddhist stories as a means of engaging a wider conversation.


Buddhism and Caste, Past and Present (Adeana McNicholl, Vanderbilt University,; Nicholas Witkowski, University of San Diego,— How have Buddhists in the past and present engaged with caste socially, discursively, ritually, and politically? What does a focus on caste illuminate about the development of Buddhism in South Asia and its interpretation in the contemporary context? How does caste intersect with gender, sexuality, class, and race? We seek to bring together approaches from a variety of historical (premodern and modern), geographic (South Asia and beyond), and methodological contexts.


Children and Childhood in Buddhism (Kelly Carlton, Princeton University, — This panel seeks to explore children and childhood in Buddhist traditions across temporal, geographic, and cultural contexts. Paper topics may include, but are not limited to, the following: Buddhist definitions of “child” or “childhood”; representations of children in Buddhist texts; approaches to children in Buddhist ethics, medicine, and ritual; and children as religious actors.

Ethical Responses Across the Buddhist World (Patrick Lambelet, University of California, Santa Barbara, — Buddhist traditions vary widely in their conceptualization of ethical doctrines, from the austerity of the Theravāda to the altruistic aims of the Mahāyāna and the antinomianism of Vajrayāna. What are some of the ways in which these ethical frameworks offer responses to pressing moral issues, both in traditional and modern contexts; how do these responses sometimes diverge, if not directly contradict each other; and how do Buddhists attempt to resolve such apparent discrepancies? This panel especially seeks to explore these questions in relation to issues such as sexuality and gender, ethnic and sectarian violence, climate, animal welfare, and so forth.

Statement of Purpose

This Unit is the largest, most stable, and most diverse forum for Buddhist studies in North America. We embrace the full historical range of the Buddhist tradition from its inception some two-and-a-half millennia ago to the present and span its entire geographical sweep — the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, and the West. In addition to being historically and geographically inclusive, we have made efforts to encourage methodological plurality. Papers presented in recent years reflect, in addition to the philological and textual approaches of classic Buddhology, the methods of intellectual history, institutional history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, gender and cultural studies, art history, literary theory, and postcolonial studies. We will continue to encourage cross-disciplinary exchange. This Unit is the forum of choice for many established scholars. For some years now, we have also striven to provide a forum for younger scholars to aid them in establishing their careers. Under normal circumstances, at least one session at the Annual Meeting is devoted to four or five individual papers; often many or all of these are from graduate students or younger scholars making their first academic presentation at a national conference. In recent years, a growing number of foreign scholars have come to recognize this Unit as a valuable forum to submit proposals, including scholars whose primary language is not English. We wish to continue to promote communication with scholars abroad and to provide opportunities for younger scholars.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposals are anonymous to chairs and steering committee members during review, but visible to chairs prior to final acceptance or rejection