I have been working on a new research project for a full year, and realised recently that I haven’t yet blogged about it. Mind you, I haven’t exactly been regular with my blogging. The past year or two have been, erm, challenging…
The project, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, is a collaboration with Chris Jones, longtime Oxford associate but now based in Cambridge, and recent recipient of the 2021 Toshi Book Award (congratulations Chris!). We are exploring how buddhahood is understood in narrative literature, both Mahāyāna and “mainstream”, with a particular focus on the first half of the first millennium. This was a time when Mahāyāna ideas were fairly widely known, and non-Mahāyāna texts of this period – such as avadāna literature – likely respond to such ideas in their own articulations of buddhahood. The way the Buddha is understood in relation to other liberated beings (pratyekabuddhas and arhats) and in relation to other buddhas (of past and future, or in different worlds) is a theme that can help us to understand the lively literary and imaginative landscape of Indian Buddhism.
We have been enjoying digging around in a variety of literatures, revisiting assumptions (such as the idea that arhats are awakened, and the idea that there are three accepted paths in mainstream Buddhism) and discovering new Buddhist angles on key figures and questions. We still have a long way to go, but perhaps I will start to blog about research findings over the coming months.
We also have a project symposium, for which the call for papers is currently live – I paste it below.
Call for Papers: Literary Buddhas across Ages and Borders
Scholars are invited to submit paper titles and abstracts for a symposium on the subject of ‘Literary Buddhas’, to be held in Cambridge (UK) over 15–16th July 2022. The focus of the symposium will be narrative explorations of the character, life, deeds and influence of the Buddha, and of other buddhas besides, across Buddhist and Buddhist-inspired literature from different cultures, contexts and eras.
At the origins of Buddhism is the figure of Siddhārtha Gautama, or Śākyamuni Buddha, whose words and deeds have remained at the centre of Buddhist teaching over two and a half millennia. The Buddha’s story and aspects of it have been reimagined innumerable times, by authors who have focused upon different episodes or details from narratives that circulated India in centuries either side of the year zero. The Buddha’s traits and actions have been further explored and elaborated upon by South, Central, East and Southeast Asian Buddhist creatives for hundreds of years. In some works the character and career of the Buddha are found to be comparable to those of other buddhas from earlier ages (Dīpaṅkara, etc.), or buddhas who are believed to be resident in other worlds (Amitābha, etc.). These awakened beings have stories of their own, which illuminate further how the category ‘buddha’ has developed in different contexts. Modern forms of Buddhism, including those that have emerged in the West, have produced their own conceptions of the Buddha/s, such that the nature of an awakened being and his relation to the world remain fluid notions at the centre of increasingly diverse Buddhist creativity.
Papers may focus on any number of themes relating to how narrative literature has presented and explored the Buddha or buddhas. Relevant materials that papers may consider include:
· Pre-modern accounts of the Buddha/s in Indian and wider Asian literature, including across mainstream Buddhist (including Theravāda) and Mahāyāna literature, from any period or cultural setting.
· Modern literary explorations of the Buddha/s, of Asian provenance or otherwise, including popular and novel reimaginings of Buddhist narratives.
The symposium relates to a project funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, and will be convened by Dr Naomi Appleton (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Chris V. Jones (University of Cambridge). The symposium will result in a volume edited by the convenors, in which all papers presented (subject to peer review) will be included. Contributors to the symposium should be prepared to submit publishable versions of their papers to the editors within six months of the event.
Applicants whose papers are accepted for the symposium will be offered three nights of accommodation and meals at the venue. Speakers will be asked to seek their own institutional funds to support travel costs; those without access to funds may be eligible for support by the symposium.
Dates and location: 15–16th July 2022; Cambridge, UK (provided that travel for contributors is possible; alternative, online arrangements will be made for contributors unable to travel).
Deadline for submissions: titles together with abstracts of no more than 500 words, anticipating papers that will be approximately 45minutes in length, should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org, by 1st December 2021. Queries may be sent to that same address. Decisions regarding successful submissions will be communicated to applicants by early 2022.