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"The Legacy of Buddhism in South Asia: Disruption, Propagation, and Accommodation"

Conference Abstracts and Bios


9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Saturday, October 1, 2016

McCord Auditorium, Dallas Hall, Southern Methodist University



Between Rejection and Integration: Brahmanical Ideas and Practices in Early Buddhist Texts


Oliver Freiberger 

The University of Texas at Austin


Early Buddhist canonical texts show a variety of ways in which the Buddhist authors deal with, and respond to, Brahmanical beliefs, practices, and values. Well known are the Buddha's rejection of animal sacrifice and of the Veda as an authoritative scripture. In this talk I take a closer look and intend to show that, in these texts, the Buddhist response to Brahmanical ideas and practices is, in fact, much less uniform – and partly contradictory. It ranges from strict rejection and biting polemics to accommodation and integration. By providing a number of examples, I intend to show that the early Buddhist community represented by those canonical texts had diverse, and sometimes surprising, views on how to respond to Brahmanism.  

Oliver Freiberger is Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Religious Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. His main fields of expertise are ancient Indian Buddhism, asceticism, and the comparative method in the study of religion. He has published a number of books and articles on these topics, including the edited volume Asceticism and Its Critics (OUP 2006).



Does Propagation Digress into Degeneration?

Insights into the legacy of Buddhism in Andhra


Sree Padma Holt

Bowdoin College


For everything there is a time and place, and so it was for Buddhism in the state of Andhra Pradesh (before it was bifurcated into two states, Andhra and Telangana).  Buddhism made its tremendous presence in Andhra Pradesh for about a millennium, from the 3rd century BCE until the 7th century CE, if not later.  Andhra played a crucial role in receiving, absorbing, developing, creating, and disseminating Buddhism to far and wide.  Andhra’s Krishna river valley made its mark for the refined Buddhist culture shown through its art, architecture, sculpture and literature.  Referring to archaeological sources such as the presence of Buddhist ruins in Andhra, inscriptions, coins, art and iconography, I consider the following:  1) what strategies and modifications did monks adopt to popularize Buddhism; 2) how the process of trade and urbanization enabled the exchange of ideas with monks from far away places leading to the development of new ideas and new sects; and finally 3) what possible factors led to gradual disappearance of Buddhism.

Sree Padma Holt is research assistant professor in Asian Studies at Bowdoin College.  She is also the executive director of the Inter-Collegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program, a study abroad program in Sri Lanka. She teaches courses on the cultural history of south Asia.  She has been a research associate in the Department of History and Archaeology at Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, where she completed her Ph.D.  She has taught at Harvard University as a lecturer and research associate in women’s studies and history of religions and at Bowdoin College as assistant professor of history.  She is the author of Vicissitudes of the Goddess: Reconstructions of the Gramadevata in India’s Religious Traditions. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) and Costume, Coiffure, and Ornament in the Temple Sculpture of Northern Andhra (Agam Kala Prakasan, 1991). Her most recent book is Fractured Bliss (Bloomington, Indiana: Xlibris Publishing House, 2016). In addition to publishing 25 articles in various journals, she edited and contributed to Inventing and Reinventing the Goddess: Contemporary Iterations of Hindu Deities on the Move. (Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2014) and Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra (State University of New York Press, 2008). 



Buddhism among Tamils.


Peter Schalk

Uppsala University (Emeritus) 


What is Buddhism among Tamils? Some answer by using the expression “Tamil Buddhism” (tamilppauttam, Tamil Pauttam), but Buddhism among Tamils may be used as a blanket for several concepts, including Tamil Buddhism, but also Prākrit- and Pāli Buddhism. It may also include Siṃhala Buddhism used by Siṃhala speakers expanding into the Tamil speaking areas in Īlam. Even Sanskrit Buddhism was known by Tamil speakers.

Buddhism among Tamils is also a territorial concept; it includes all kinds of Buddhism in Tamil speaking areas in Tamilakam  and Īlam. Buddhism among Tamils is also a concept of time. In Tamilakam  it covered a period of a millennium from the Pallava period.

Buddhism among Tamils in Tamilakam was heavily exposed to the polemic from the Caiva and Vaiṇava side from the Pallava period onwards which resulted in a marginalised position in Tamilakam. We should be aware that Buddhism was heavily attacked by Caiṉam too. I will now concentrate on one part of Buddhism among Tamils, on Tamil Buddhism. What is that?

In 1983 Peter Schalk was appointed by the Government of Sweden as full professor for a chair in the History of Religions, in particular Hinduism and Buddhism, placed in Uppsala at the Faculty of Arts. He retired from the chair in Uppsala at the age of 67 in 2012. He has been responsible for the series Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Historia Religionum, which has published four volumes on Buddhism among Tamils: A Buddhist Woman’s Path to Enlightenment, Proceedings of a Workshop on the Tamil Narrative Maṇimēkalai (Volume 13, 1997); Buddhism among Tamils in Pre-Colonial Tamiḻakam and Īḻam, Part 1, Prologue, The Pre-Pallava and the Pallava period (Volume 19,  2002); Buddhism among Tamils in Pre-Colonial Tamiḻakam and Īḻam, Part 2, The Period of the Imperial Cōḻar, Tamiḻakam and Īḻam, (Volume 20, 2002); Buddhism among Tamils in Pre-Colonial Tamiḻakam and Īḻam, Part 3, Extension and Conclusion, (Volume 20, 2013).


The Rise of the Oppressed Tamilan: Iyotheethassar, Tamil Buddhism, and the Movement towards a Casteless South Asia

Gajendran Ayyathurai

Research Fellow, CeMIS, Göttingen University, Germany


South Asian Studies continues to overlook caste/casteism, the inseparable component of colonialism. So far we have only progressed to figure out that the British reworked the precolonial categories of caste through administrative apparatuses, such as Census, to legitimize the British empire. What remains understudied is how and in what ways privileged caste groups became the go-betweens and served the colonial masters, on the one hand, and doubly oppressed those they deemed as lower castes and untouchables, on the other. Nevertheless, historical and anthropological studies' "vernacular turn" promises to unveil the voice of the oppressed women and men against caste during colonial and postcolonial times in South Asia. That is, how their social and cultural consciousness and movements sowed the seeds for a casteless South Asia during late colonialism and thereafter. Using the archive The Tamilan (a weekly journal published between 1907-1914 in the Tamil speaking regions), and ethnographic field research among Tamil Buddhists in South India, this paper argues that Iyotheethassar and the Tamil Buddhism he inaugurated was one such movement since late nineteenth century that not only rallied for the annihilation of caste in Tamil Nadu but also for a casteless South Asia.

Gajendran Ayyathurai is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), Göttingen University, Germany. He has a PhD from Columbia University, New York. His fields of interest include historical anthropology of South Asia, memory and the marginalized communities, and social movements against caste, race, and gender relations. He has also taught at Columbia University, City University of New York, and William Paterson University, New Jersey. He has taught at Columbia University, City University of New York, William Paterson University, New Jersey, and at Göttingen University. Gajendran is the coordinator of a new interdisciplinary subfield, Critical Caste Studies—a collaborative project of scholars from India, Europe and the US. Currently, he is finishing his book manuscript on Tamil Buddhism.


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