Colonial Legacy of  White Supremacy in American Buddhism

Joseph Cheah

in Race and Religion in American Buddhism

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199756285
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918874 | DOI:


Colonial Legacy of  White Supremacy in American Buddhism

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This chapter traces the legacy of white supremacy in American Buddhism to “racial projects” conceived and implemented by Western Orientalists in the middle and late Victorian era. Eugene Burnouf, Brian Houghton, and other first-generation Western Orientalists articulated the project of modernity of the Enlightenment era, where knowledge about Asian textual Buddhism was retrieved, translated, and rerepresented for Westerners. These Orientalists provided a prescriptive account of Buddhism which maintained that “authentic Buddhism” was located in the canonical texts rather than in the rituals and practices of Asian Buddhism. T.W. Rhys Davids and other second-generation Western scholars continued this tradition of privileging texts over rituals and practice. These Western Orientalists assumed that Asian Buddhists were trapped in their own cultural accretions, and that “true Buddhism” located in the sutras, could only be rescued with the aid of Western superior scholarship. Such attitudes and discursive practices of Western Orientalists are but reflections of Orientalist racial projects of that era.

Keywords: colonial legacy; racial project; Western Orientalists; Eugene Burnouf; Brian Houghton; T.W. Rhys Davids; rerepresented; cultural accretions; “true Buddhism”

Chapter.  8013 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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