Shulman’s first words in that article are…
“The play of formulas” offers a new approach to Buddhist scripture… (emphasis added)
Which means that Shulman doesn’t see himself as participating in an existing discussion or as part of an existing “camp” within Buddhist Studies. He says he is trying to take us in a new direction. This is consistent with my overall impressions of his work. He is not representative of any trend in Buddhist Studies, but is very much ploughing his own furrow. Sometimes this is insightful, as when he argues that dependent arising was intended to describe the arising of experience and not to be a theory of everything; but other times it’s less clear to me how valid or applicable his arguments are.
In fact, the arguments over historicity in our field are largely free floating and tend not linked to any common theory or methodology.
The people you describe “historicists” are almost all Theravādin bhikkhus or their academic allies (and Sujato who is “not Theravādin” these days). Their views are too obviously apologetic in flavour and motivated by their religious convictions (c.f. my review of Stefan Karpik and the Oxford clique).
Academic allies of other Buddhisms are less interested in the historicity of texts or the Buddha because these are not assumptions made by other Buddhisms. If you believe in the Dharmakāya Buddha, for example, the historicity of texts is just not that interesting.
Worse, the other “camp” are not really linked by any common theory or methodology. Buddhist Studies scholars almost never discuss questions of methodology or theory; the whole field is deeply averse to discussing theory. Gombrich’s rants against “methodology” are legendary. Also most Buddhist Studies scholars prefer to stick to description and actively avoid trying to explain anything, so there is little work for theory or methodology to do. There are few genuine intellectual “camps” and great deal of individualism.
For example, another new direction is reflected in Jonathan Silk’s Open Philology project. Which is more like your description of a “literary” approach. In this view, authenticity is always with respect to the views of a particular community at a particular time and ur-texts, if they exist at all, are not that interesting or valuable.
I’m involved in another approach, which was proposed by (the late) Sue Hamilton. This is the reading of Buddhist texts as primarily concerned with epistemic issues, especially as they relate to meditation and the cessation of sensory experience as the acme of Buddhist meditation. This is neither “historicist” nor “literary” as far as I can see: one could start from either position and still benefit from our epistemic reading. Shulman made a valuable early contribution to this approach, but has since moved on to pursue his own thing.
I think also of Jonathan S Walter’s approach to “Suttas as History” which seems to me to sit somewhere between your “historicist” and “literary” poles.
Joseph Walser has another quite different and distinctive approach. One of his observations, for example, is that amongst living Buddhists in traditional Buddhist countries, ātman views are ubiquitous. The idea that Buddhists “don’t believe in ātman” based on normative texts is contradicted (and might argue refuted) by what actual living Buddhists in Buddhist cultures say they believe. This calls into question the idea that we can study ancient normative texts to find out what Buddhists believed back then. An analogy would be trying to understand how people in the 1970s used computers by reading contemporary computer manuals.
Walser’s approach echoes Schopen’s observations about discrepancies between archaeology and normative texts. For example, archaeological digs of Indian Buddhist monasteries invariably find money, which is notionally forbidden to Buddhist monks by the Vinaya (at least in Theravāda, this restriction is not always observed in other lineages or ordination). At least one Indian Buddhist monastery had the equipment to mint their own coins. Donative inscriptions across India often mention monks and nuns paying for monuments and memorials. So the Vinaya is the ideal and not how things worked in practice.
David Drewes takes what I think of as a strictly historicist position. But he concludes that the texts are not evidence for historicity of the people in the texts. None of the people mentioned in Pāli, including the Buddha, have ever been connected to any historical facts or events. There is no “archaeology of early Buddhism” that corresponds to the Early Buddhist texts, though there is archaeology of those places. A genuinely historicist reading tells us that, at best, the texts as we have them reflect the beliefs of people who lived some centuries later than the events depicted in the texts. And the events could be fictions set in real places. On this basis, I would question labelling the Theravādin faction as “historicist”. They are more like historical apologists (using this word in a descriptive rather than pejorative sense).
I don’t think this idea that there are two camps is accurate or that it leads to interesting reflections. It seems like an example of the common cognitive bias towards conceptualising differences of opinion as binary oppositions.
In the field of Buddhist Studies there is no common body of theory or methodology. Rather there are a plurality of approaches, often with a strongly individualist flavour, that eschew explicit theories and methodologies and prefer to rely on the individual “genius” of the scholars, who genuinely seem to make it up as they go. The discussions of methodology that we do see, are often in service to a particular goal. There’s no enunciation of hermeneutic principles that is not closely tied to a particular outcome, that I’m aware of.
If you want to make a binary opposition, then it might be more apropos to talk about it in terms of what each group takes as given.
There is one, quite small, camp which accepts the historicity of the Buddha and the authenticity of (their subset of) Buddhist texts as articles of faith. And who (surprise) find that the methods they adopt confirm their beliefs.
There is another much larger camp, that is anything but uniform or unified, which does not accept these axioms and whose individualised methods lead to a variety of individualised opinions on historicity and authenticity, including positions that treat historicity as irrelevant or unknowable.