This Unit is the largest 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. Finally, in recent years, the Buddhism Unit has hosted several broader critical conversations about changing methodological approaches in the field of Buddhist Studies. Because it draws diverse scholars from across the field, the Buddhism Unit at the AAR plays a special role in being a forum for conversations about disciplinary formation.
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Call for Proposals for November Meeting
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 (http://libblogs.luc.edu/wisar/) is an excellent resource for ensuring gender balance (if you are not listed in WISAR and would like to be, please consider uploading your information).
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, "Violence, Non-Violence, and the Margin," or proposals that relate in some way to the location of the Annual Meeting (San Diego, California).
Below are some of the themes that our members have proposed for the 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.
Archaeology and Buddhist Studies: New Findings, Interpretations, and Directions (Contact: Jon Thumas, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Following up on the advances in the study of Buddhism through material sources, this panel explores how archaeological approaches are currently contributing to work in Buddhist studies. Seeking papers from interdisciplinary scholars currently engaging with archaeological methods to study Buddhism in all places and times.
Author Meets Author: The Two Truths in Buddhist Studies (Contact: Kin Cheung, email@example.com, Jue Liang, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Andrew S. Taylor, email@example.com)
This roundtable invites Buddhist Studies scholars to take part in an exercise of self-reflection. Each speaker will pick a category (gender, feminism, agency, body, mind, medicine, healing, science, ...) and critically examine their engagement with these categories in Buddhist Studies by making two opposing arguments that are equally valid. By doing so, we hope to open up a space to articulate the challenges we face in putting emic categories in dialogue with more traditional religious studies categories, and what we gain and lose by doing so.
Possible co-sponsorship with the Buddhist Critical-Constructive Reflection Unit and the Global-Critical Philosophy of Religions Unit.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence directed against an individual because of their gender or violence that impacts people of a particular gender disproportionately. As reported by the United Nations, women are disproportionally harmed by GBV, largely due to systemic gender inequality. This roundtable seeks to illuminate and examine the different ways that GBV is reproduced and resisted in Buddhist cultures and contexts. It also considers the question of whether GBV, a relatively new concept, can be retrospectively applied. Buddhism and Gender Based Violence or Gender Based Violence in Buddhism
This panel explores interactions between different forms of Buddhism in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. Yunnan is known for its diversity, which extends to the many forms of Buddhism practiced there, past and present. We seek papers that consider encounters between different forms of Buddhism (e.g., different languages, traditions, ethnic groups, etc.) in Yunnan. The papers are welcome to focus on a specific site, text, or figure, and we are open to different time periods and methods.
The panel aims to explore how early South Asian Buddhists utilized languages, embraced and critiqued Brahmanical language theories, and developed their own theories of language. We seek to delve into the topic by examining the practical and theoretical aspects of language as understood by the early South Asian Buddhists. Individual presentations will encompass topics such as the stage of fluid Middle Indo-Aryan languages and their role in the formation of Buddhist canons. We will reconsider the fluidity of the MIA texts and the process of linguistic standardization in the light of intellectual reflections on the nature of language in commentarial and scholastic texts and associated knowledge of languages (grammar, etymology, etc.)
Buddhist Narratives and Lay Buddhism (Contact: Julian Butterfield, firstname.lastname@example.org)
This panel explores Buddhist narratives by, about, and/or for laypeople, considering how stories contribute to our understanding of Buddhist practices, lives, and histories outside the monastery. We seek short research-grounded papers from scholars working with diverse narrative media (text, image, song, film, et cetera) across historical and geographic contexts.
Collective Mandala: Interdisciplinary Collaborations in Buddhist Studies (Contact: Manuel Lopez, email@example.com)
We invite scholars in Buddhist Studies to submit proposals for the round table, "Collective Mandala: Interdisciplinary Collaborations in Buddhist Studies." This round table seeks to showcase the significance of collaborative projects in Buddhist Studies. We encourage contributions that transcend disciplinary boundaries, fostering a collective understanding of Buddhism's richness, diversity, and complexity. The round table aims to highlight how collaborative efforts (across disciplines as well as across cultures) can provide new insights into our field.
Contemporary Buddhisms (Contact: Brian J. Nichols, firstname.lastname@example.org)
This panel will explore diverse ways Buddhist traditions in Asia and beyond are adapting to twenty-first-century conditions in response to political, economic, ecological, and social challenges and realities. Scholars conducting ethnographic studies of contemporary communities are encouraged to submit proposals.
Critical Examination of the Relationship between Gender and Morality in Buddhism (Contact: Hiroko Kawanami, email@example.com)
This panel seeks a discursive space and invites discussions to critically examine the relationship between gender and morality in Buddhist monastic communities and understand why so many LGBTQIAs in the West try to hide their ‘true’ identity in their Buddhist communities. It is an attempt to deconstruct the sexual binary conventionally accepted in Buddhist studies and understand what a non-binary position implies to Buddhist practitioners both lay and monastic. It hopes to problematize the binary assumption that links morality and the female body in Buddhism, and understand the practice of celibacy for transgender nuns, and non-binary practitioners in the monastic community, and explore various avenues that Buddhist women pursue in their struggle to achieve liberation.
The panel also questions why Asian Buddhist nuns, who have become freed from patriarchal pressures go on to adhere to a stricter moral framework in the monastic community, which confines them to many communal rules and norms. Every feature of their mode of conduct is restrictive and even their religious attire is aimed at preserving feminine virtues associated with traditional good womanhood in a patriarchal society. And yet, many modern young women accept them without resistance. In addition, the panel hopes to examine why the notion of motherhood continues to hold an important image for celibate nuns who take on the role of honorary mothers to monks and transgender Buddhists becoming active nurturers in their role as donors to the monastic community.
Empowerment of Lay Buddhist Practitioners, Egalitarianism, and Challenge of Monastic Authority (Contact: Xiao HAN, firstname.lastname@example.org)
This panel seeks to shift the focus from global, well-established, institutionalized Buddhist organizations to critically examine the significantly expanding influence of ordinary laypersons and practitioners in contemporary Buddhism, particularly in countries outside of Asia, from diverse perspectives: ethnographically, historically, sociologically, etc. It will emphasize lay partitioners’ roles, both organized and unstructured, in sustaining monastic communities and in fostering egalitarian organizational structures within Buddhist institutions. Additionally, this discussion will examine how these lay actors are challenging traditional monastic hierarchies and authority, contributing significantly to the reinterpretation and adaptation of Buddhist education, rituals, and doctrines. The panel will also be interested in discussing the democratization of Buddhist institutions, the rise of socially engaged movements and ecumenism within Buddhism in contemporary global contexts, highlighting the empowerment brought about by transnational networks, international politics, and digital media.
Gender and Sexuality across Buddhist Traditions (Contact: Lu Huang, email@example.com)
This panel explores the issue of gender and sexuality across Buddhist traditions. We seek papers that discuss these issues from various perspectives (e.g., doctrinal, philosophical, historical, anthropological, etc.) The papers are welcome to focus on a specific school, text, figure, or region, and we are open to different time periods and methods.
This panel seeks to expose a certain type of Orientalist assumption that often arises in popular understandings of Buddhist traditions. Drawing on Larry Lohmann’s concept of "Green Orientalism," we will explore different ways in which Western constructions of “Eastern” religions are romanticized and used as resources for modern liberal and environmental values.
Images, Caves and Stone Inscriptions: Funerary Practices among Buddhist Women in Asia (Contact: Lan LI, firstname.lastname@example.org)
This panel aims to delve into the Buddhist practices and devotional projects conducted by non-mainstream communities like women in Asia. I invite scholars to collaboratively investigate the Buddhist funerary practices of female practitioners by examining three types of materials: textual records, archaeological evidence, and epigraphical sources. This study will shed light on exploring women’s role, whether as monastics or laity, in the dissemination of Buddhism.
Images of Buddhism, Buddhist Images (Contact: Brooke Schedneck, email@example.com)
This panel surveys the multiple meanings of photographs, statues, figures, and representations of Buddhism. Such images have played a significant role in the transmission of the tradition, but less attention has been paid to the reception of various types of religious media within Buddhist studies. What do photos of famous monks mean to contemporary practitioners? How have historical actors and texts considered Buddha statues? I am looking for co-panelists to create a diverse set of papers for broadening and theorizing our understanding of the reception of Buddhist images.
The emergence of Buddhist museums was first brought to Western scholarly attention by the anthropologist Louis Gabaude who reported on a “new phenomenon in Thai monasteries: The Stūpa-Museum” (2003). Since then, scholars such as Yui Suzuki (2007), Justin McDaniel (2017), Pamela Winfield (2021), and Aik Sai Goh (2022) have found the phenomenon of Buddhist museums productive to think with.
This session examines past and present manifestations of Buddhist museums broadly defined. These may be archaeological site museums, museumified historic temples, memorial museums, open-air museological theme parks, arts museums, art galleries, museums inside temples, temples inside museums, hybrid stūpa-museums, or temple-museums. What do these tell us about secular and sacred places in their respective contexts? Why did governments, organizations, or individuals establish Buddhist museums? What regional differences may account for the different types of Buddhist museums?
This roundtable will facilitate a discussion on how the study of Buddhism contributes to rethinking "heritage" (engaging and venturing beyond UNESCO definitions) and vice versa. We welcome short presentations from scholars working across geographic contexts (including the intersections of Buddhism and heritage beyond Asia) and methodological approaches (historical, social-scientific, theoretical).
Violence and the Problem of Evil in the Buddhist Traditions (Contact: Eric Haruki Swanson, firstname.lastname@example.org)
This paper session seeks to explore the problem of evil as expressed in Buddhist traditions across geographical areas and historical time. In recognition of the 2024 AAR Presidential Theme: Violence, Nonviolence, and the Margin, we especially invite explorations of the negotiation of evil as it pertains to the margins. How is salvation articulated, whether through text, image, or practice, in the face of violence and evil acts? This paper session invites scholars of all ranks including graduate students working across historic, geographic, and methodological contexts.
Call for Proposals for Online June Meeting
Further information about the Online June Sessions will be forthcoming from AAR. When you submit the proposal to PAPERS, you will be able to select the Online June Sessions as an option. Please consult the above CFP for proposal ideas and reach out to the organizer about whether it will online or in-person. We discourage roundtable submissions for the June session as these are best carried out in person.
Statement of Purpose
Steering Committee Members
Megan Bryson, University of Tennessee1/1/2024 - 12/31/2029
Ralph Craig, Stanford University1/1/2024 - 12/31/2029
Ann Gleig, University of Central Florida1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
Sarah Jacoby, Northwestern University1/1/2024 - 12/31/2029
Sonam Kachru, Yale University1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
Sujung Kim, DePauw University1/1/2024 - 12/31/2029
Rongdao Lai, McGill University1/1/2021 - 12/31/2026
Trent Walker, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027