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Language, Poiesis, and Buddhist Experiments with the Possible Seminar

Call for Proposals

This seminar is concerned with poiesis, the bringing into being and shaping of worlds and selves, through language and its religious and literary contexts. In this inaugural year of the seminar, we begin by rethinking our conceptual toolkit, focusing especially on how foundational categories such as genre, style, and taste relate to poiesis and how this question is entangled with legacies of power. Where does poiesis happen, i.e., in which spheres of Buddhist (and Buddhist-adjacent) literature and practice does poiesis through language take place? How are acts or practices of poietic language use, their contexts, and our analyses of them impacted by structures or legacies of power such as imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy, and class distinction? How might responses to these questions challenge or prompt us to restructure our approaches to genre, style, taste, and Buddhist modes of language in general? We invite proposals that address these questions via specific case studies. During our seminar meeting, we will also discuss the contemporary relevance of our work, e.g. how uses of language, with its poietic capacities, figure into the problems of our present moment as well as their possible amelioration or eradication.

Each presenter will be limited to brief (8–10 minute) remarks oriented towards raising issues and questions for discussion; presentations will be followed by responses and discussion in a workshop format. Papers must be pre-circulated to other seminar presenters as well as to the seminar co-chairs and steering committee members. Secondary sources relevant to the year’s theme will be made available in advance via the AAR Annual Meeting website, and presenters will also have the option to pre-circulate primary sources and translations. During the session, all primary sources and translations must be displayed via slide presentation to facilitate detailed, in-depth discussion open to all attendees. We seek diverse collaboration and welcome applicants working in various genres, regions, and time periods. Innovative proposals, such as collaborative presentations by specialists of differing fields with shared thematic interests, will be given special consideration; teams will be allotted up to 20 minutes of total presentation time. We are especially interested in proposals from graduate students, contingent faculty, scholars of color, queer and trans scholars, and scholars from other underrepresented groups.

Statement of Purpose

The overwhelming capacity of language to shape our shared sense of reality for better or for worse has long been recognized by Buddhists, who have considered it both an obstacle and an opportunity for transformation and liberation. Such Buddhist approaches harbor the potential to help us rethink the potency of language in the interest of collective flourishing. Our seminar investigates how Buddhists have engaged with the poiesis of language—its ability to create anew and shape worlds and selves—and how this engagement, as a constitutive aspect of Buddhist thought and practice, has contributed to making the form and content of Buddhism itself. We explore a broad range of Buddhist language use, taking poetics as the exemplary but not exclusive ground where language is made poietic, while accommodating overlapping and contiguous forms of language, for instance, ritual utterance, gesture, linguistic patterns, etc.

Our mode of inquiry approaches Buddhist language use in terms of experiments with the possibilities of language. We emphasize that Buddhist content and modes of expression alike should be examined as inextricably involved in the process by which Buddhism took on its distinctive character and formed its sense of the possible; and we approach Buddhist literary forms as an environment that enables Buddhists to find their voice, subject matter, style, and self-representation. Attuned to how Buddhists have formulated their views on these issues, the seminar aims therefore to develop a conceptual toolkit for the rigorous, ethical interpretation of Buddhist language as a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary endeavor.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members