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Language, Poiesis, and Buddhist Experiments with the Possible Seminar

Call for Proposals

Our seminar investigates, over the course of five years, the poiesis of language—its capacity to create, bring into existence, and shape worlds, selves, and our shared sense of reality. To better grasp this potential of language, we approach Buddhist textual engagement foremost in terms of experiments with the possibilities of language (rather than under given textual categories, genre distinctions, tropes, etc.) and examine how these have contributed to making the form and content of Buddhism itself, along with adjacent traditions. In doing so we emphasize that both content and modes of expression should be examined as inextricably involved in the process by which Buddhism took on its distinctive character as well as its sense of what is possible. We approach literary forms as an environment that enables Buddhists to find their voice, subject matter, style, and self-representation.


For the 2023 AAR Annual Meeting we invite proposals on the theme: 

Practices for transforming the real: language, imagination, and scholarly modes of engagement

This year, we seek to generate a mutually informing dialogue between Buddhist linguistic practices for making and transforming self and world, and scholarly modes of engagement with those practices. What relationships among language, imagination, and the real do Buddhist texts imply and enable? And what techniques for making or transforming self and world do these relationships make conceivable and practicable?

Conversely, how do scholars recognize when and how Buddhist texts are deployed to shape the real, and how might our answers to such questions change how we engage with Buddhist texts? As we seek to question the scholarly assumptions we inherit and inhabit, how might Buddhist practices involving language expand our imaginative and critical resources? How might we develop alternative modes of interpretation so as to encounter Buddhist texts in new ways?

We invite proposals that aim to address these questions through leading a close reading of a selection from a Buddhist primary text (we include both written and oral forms of language) or a text from an adjacent tradition that offers resources for reconsidering methods and approaches to Buddhist language. In your proposal, please identify clearly the textual selection you propose to read (and submit an excerpt) and demonstrate its relevance to the theme.

The format for 2023 will be a close-reading workshop taking place over two consecutive 90-minute sessions, divided by a half-hour break.

  • Presenters will not give a paper; instead, they will introduce and lead a close reading of their text that addresses the seminar questions and theme outlined above, engaging in discussion with designated respondents and the audience along the way. Ample time will be devoted to each text selected to permit sustained discussion.
  • Presenters will be required: 1) to precirculate their text excerpt and any supporting materials to all formal seminar participants (steering committee, respondents, and other presenters); 2) to post in advance via the AAR platform both a brief introduction to their text and their textual excerpt (in one or more languages, as germane to the text in question) and an English translation (unless the text was composed in English), which can be accessed by all AAR 2023 attendees; and 3) to display their text (and translation, if applicable) via the available AV setup or handouts.
  • Collaborative work is encouraged and will be given special consideration.

We plan to designate at least two respondents for every text. If you are interested in responding to a workshop text, please submit a proposal specifying that you are interested in a respondent role, and briefly explaining your interest in our seminar theme and questions.

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