South Asia Institute
South Asia Institute

Spring 2014

Buddhism's Boundaries

Saturday, March 1 - Sunday, March 2

Scholars of religion have long realized that the attempt to distinguish “religions” in micro-historical contexts creates problems, not only in South Asia. How exactly do we determine whether a specific religious practice, a certain concept, or another religious expression is “Buddhist,” “Hindu,” “Jain,” etc.? While some scholars claim that such distinctions are fundamentally problematic and anachronistic, historical studies show that things are more complex. For many people’s religious lives, past and present, drawing distinctions may indeed be rather irrelevant, but there is also ample evidence that at all times some people did determine their religious identities by demarcating the religious Other. Normatively distinguishing religious traditions is problematic, but we can examine the boundaries that are drawn by religious actors themselves in certain historical moments.

The papers of this conference present historical instances of how boundaries between Buddhism and other religions in South Asia are determined. General topics for the discussion are the form and location of such postulated boundaries; the ways in which they are constructed and interpreted by the actors; the motives and intentions behind the boundary-work (religious, social, political, economic, etc.); and the analysis of the thus-constructed religious identity and its relation to other identities (linguistic, spatial/regional/national, gender, class, etc.). Other important subjects of discussion include the possibility that multiple, even conflicting boundaries are drawn by different actors in one and the same historical situation, and that boundaries are unstable and shifting over time.

The goal of the conference is to refine methods for the analysis of religious boundary-work and identity construction. This may give reason to reconsider the actual subject matter of Buddhist Studies and, more generally, help scholars of religion scrutinize how they distinguish “religions” historically.

For conference program, click here 


Dan Boucher (Cornell University)

Ronald Davidson (Fairfield University):

Robert DeCaroli (George Mason University)

Christoph Emmrich (University of Toronto, Canada)

Oliver Freiberger (UT Austin)

John Holt (Bowdoin College)

Janice Leoshko (UT Austin)

Claire Maes (Ghent University, Belgium)

Anne Monius (Harvard University)

Patrick Olivelle (UT Austin)

Sponsored by the South Asia Institute, Department of Asian Studies and the Department of Religious Studies