Buddhist contributions to the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in Boston, 2017

For the past few years, I’ve posted a summary of the contents of the AAR annual conference as it pertains to early Buddhist studies. Each year, the conference features dozens of papers, while managing to almost completely avoid saying anything about the Buddha or his teachings. I just received the panels for this year, so I will continue my grand tradition, and we can see if anything has changed.

The AAR conference is a large, perhaps the largest, annual conference for discussion of religion in academia. It is widely attended by American academics, with some from Europe and elsewhere, too. Some of the panels deal with specifically Buddhist topics, while others deal with interfaith issues or other matters of relevance.

There are about 44 panels that include papers relating to Buddhism. Each panel has about five participants, though of course not all are giving papers on Buddhism.

Here are the papers that appear to deal with anything in the first 500 years of Buddhism. Of course I may have missed some, and the content might not always be apparent from the title.

  • Poetic Turns in Buddhist Literature.
    Julie Regan, La Salle University.
    An Early Buddhist Theory of Poetics as a Path to Awakening

  • New Work in Buddhist Studies.
    Nathan McGovern, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.
    Oral Theory and Protestant Assumptions in the Study of Early Buddhist Sutras

  • Uses and Misuses of Anger in Buddhism and Christianity
    Carol S. Anderson, Kalamazoo College.
    Anger Makes Us Ugly: Reflections from Pali Buddhism

There’s also this:

  • Buddhist Practical Canons: Textual Community in the Pre-modern Buddhist World
    Jonathan Young, California State University, Bakersfield.
    Practical Canons from Buddhist Pasts: What Pāli Anthologies Can Tell Us about Buddhist History

But I gather this is more about how Pali texts have been used in modern history than about the texts themselves.

So we have one paper on poetry, and one as part of an interfaith panel on anger. I’m sure they’ll be fine, but this is slight, to say the least. The paper by McGovern, which evokes the classic Schopenism of “Protestant assumptions”, may well be a critique of studying suttas, rather than an actual contribution, although it’s not really possible to say.

This is par for the course, and shows that nothing has changed. There is nothing on the Buddha, almost nothing on his teachings, nothing on the early community, the spread of Buddhism, Ashoka, the rise of the Abhidhamma, or anything else that happened in the first five hundred years of Buddhism.

This is what it looks like when an entire academic field colludes to hide its subject.


It’s interesting- I’m hearing about this conference for the first time! It’s not like I have been out of touch with what is happening in Buddhism worldwide. Perhaps what is happening in the world of academia has little relevance to what is truly going on for Buddhist practitioners. The abuse of Buddhism by politics to shore up their voter base/endorse ‘brand’ image, or endorsing genocide and racism by some quarters would be heartfelft topics to name a few.

with metta