Colonialism and Postcolonialism

Anne Blackburn

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:
Colonialism and Postcolonialism


The study of colonial and postcolonial histories in relation to Buddhism and the use of postcolonial theory by scholars of Buddhism are fairly recent developments within the field of Buddhist studies and its allied disciplines of history, anthropology, and art history. Many of these approaches to the study of Buddhism were initially influenced by the work of Edward Said and related postcolonial and post-Orientalist studies of the way forms of knowledge and practice were reshaped in the context of colonial administrative projects. In this regard, some scholars of Buddhism took inspiration in particular from studies of how Hinduism, and to a lesser extent Islam, were “imagined” as part of colonial-period engagements in Asia. In addition, scholars of Buddhism were sometimes struck by the importance of Buddhist-inspired symbols, discourse, and institutional influence to anticolonial and nationalist projects and sought to document and analyze these phenomena. Since the early 1990s, scholars of Buddhism have worked on problems related to colonialism and postcolonialism from what may be conceived as four broad directions. In the first place, the history of the academic study of Buddhism has been investigated in relation to its roots in European colonial and missionary projects that first brought knowledge of Buddhists and their practices to the attention of Euro-American scholars of religion. Second, scholars have documented and analyzed the textual orientation of the first several generations of work in Buddhist studies, sometimes relating this textual emphasis to the religious orientation of non-Buddhist colonial scholars of Buddhism, and examining the ways in which a focus on the study of authoritative Buddhist texts led to historically inexact and essentialist treatments of Buddhist communities and their practices. A third body of scholarship examines the impact of colonial-period social and technological changes on the institutional, textual, and ritual lives of Buddhists, and the ways in which Buddhist teachers, institutions, and practices also became linked to anticolonial and nationalist activism and political life. All of these perspectives emphasize the relationship between European colonial contexts and those of European colonies in Asia. More recently, scholars of Buddhism have begun to consider intra-Asian and intra-Buddhist colonialism, as well as the networks between Asian Buddhist communities that deepened and flourished during the heyday of European colonial rule in Asia.

Article.  6602 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »