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date: 15 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This essay examines a variety of dysfunctional consequences of employing modern nation-states as the default organizing category for Buddhist studies regardless of the period being studied. Two of these consequences are directly related to one another: conflating contemporary nation-states with religious cultures, and equating religious and ethnic identities. Additionally, the organizing category tends to privilege some particular tradition as representative of or the essence of Buddhism in a specific nation-state, marking that tradition as uniquely authoritative. More broadly, research is constrained within the boundaries of nation-states, and the continuity of Buddhist traditions that cross nation-state boundaries is obscured. At the same time artificial continuities are retrospectively imposed, and the tradition comes to be defined by forms located at the center of political power. The work of four contemporary scholars is discussed as exemplifying the arguments for and value of moving away from nation-state categories. Consideration is given to the formative role of the training of missionaries and other agents of empire in the institutionalization of nation-state categories.

Keywords: Buddhism, Buddhist studies, nation-state, religious cultures, ethnic identities, geopolitical boundaries

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