Early Buddhism still doesn't exist in American Buddhist academia


Re-reading this thread, it occurs to me that when I was in grad school - about 10 years ago, now - there were three Buddhism students: myself, Nate D. (Tibetan) and Nate M. (Zen). I watched them have wild discussions - but they were the only ones with professors doing that stuff.

Anyway, the Zen professor dude ended up being casually dismissive of the Critical Buddhism movement, so I hunted all that down (the AAR journal even had some articles on it) and was impressed; it was the beginning of my walk towards the EBTs.

With respect to the current state of affairs, I’m reminded of a quote by George Carlin:

“You can take and nail two sticks together like they’ve never been nailed together before and some fool will buy it.”


I’ve had this book in my possession three times, and each time I’ve taken it back to the library unread because it just looked so boring, and I had other books in the queue.

So, fine, I guess I have to read it. Bah!


If I’m not wrong, I think all (one or more) of the professors (Cox, etc.) are all retiring(?).

I inquired about a PhD program there, and I think they said they aren’t taking anymore students because everyone who is doing anything related to early Buddhism will retire.

I think that program also required two modern languages, which makes me think that the emphasis of the program is pretty heavy on modern Buddhism - who has time to learn two modern languages aside from English unless they are interested in contemporary Buddhism?


I’m sad to hear that.

It’s the same at Stanford, which I learned when I gave a talk there. By the way, did you know I gave a talk at Stanford? Because I gave a talk at Stanford! :blush:

It’s a pretty standard requirement for serious humanities. It is not because of a focus on modern Buddhism per se, but to keep up with academic work published in different languages. Usually, unfortunately, it is two European languages, but it really should be Japanese and Chinese, as that is where the bulk of serious work is done.



I actually ruled out Stanford altogether because their program’s emphasis seemed too much on East Asian Buddhism :sweat_smile:- I don’t want to put myself in a place that is not conducive to early Buddhist research.

Oh yeah, I think a friend once explained this to me - he said like French, Russian, or German - and just bare minimum to pass a test. He didn’t seem like he used the language much after that.
I think he said this requirement is becoming less and less every year because most of the leading academic work is now published in English.


Do you know which universities in the world seem by far the most suitable for those interested in early Buddhism? I think it’s very relevant to this topic thread actually - by the title, I fear that the answer is none lol :sweat_smile:


…and an early reference in the introduction to (apologies in advance, Bhante…a great song…)


I noticed this OP was from 2015, so I decided to check out the last two years of programs (171 pages of sessions each year!) and among the about 4 dozen sessions on Buddhism each year, here’s what I found:

  • In 2018 only one session mentioned the EBTs: “From Rape Texts to Bro Buddhism: Critical Canonical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Sexual Abuse Scandals in Western Buddhism”
  • And this year, there’s a session called “Back to basics: What is Dharma?” discussing the Abhidhamma, which is kind of early, I guess? At least it’s in the canon!

:roll_eyes: So yeah, still pretty disappointing four years later.

Comparing to other religions:

  • The Bible is mentioned in 48 session descriptions this year
  • the Quran in 14 (out of about 40 sessions on Islam)
  • the Torah in 1 (out of about 10 Jewish sessions)
  • the Pali Canon: 1 / 44 sessions

So. I take away a couple things:

  1. There is still a bias against the EBTs compared to the foundational texts of other religions.
  2. The conference is heavily Christian.

Now, as to explanatory notes, I can only venture a few guesses, but I would lay the blame more on the anthropologization of the study of Oriental Religions™️ than on a desire to appease Mahayana partisans. Many of the Buddhist sessions were on “exotic” Mahayana forms (“Pāla Period Buddhism and its Himalayan Legacy”, “Liberating Animals in Medieval China”, etc), but most of the sessions on Buddhism seemed to be of the form “Buddhism and _____” (food, pedagogy, modernity, feminism, Christianity, etc, etc), that is to say: explicitly about enabling non-Buddhists to appropriate "Buddhist Wisdom"™️

Only a few sessions (compared to Christianity) seemed geared to practicing Buddhists (“Buddhism in the West Roundtable”) and even among those, they were often geared towards Christian (!) Buddhists (“ Buddhist-Christian Dual Practice and Belonging”)

But don’t worry, they had a session on “Decolonial/Anti-Racist Interventions in Tibetan/ Buddhist Studies” hahahaha