Buddhist Ideology and Propaganda in the Indic Northwest: A Study in Avadāna Literature

Start - End 
2020 - 2023 (ongoing)
Department(s) 
Department of Languages and Cultures
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Buddhism

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Abstract

Proceeding from the maxim that 'nothing can be understood apart from context', this research projects seeks to do that which is rarely done in the study of Buddhist literature. It advances an ambitious methodology to establish nexus between archaeological, art historical, epigraphic and textual sources in the Indic Northwest (eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan) around the turn of the Common Era. Focusing on a genre of Buddhist narrative termed avadāna in Chinese, Gāndhārī and Sanskrit witnesses, it conducts a systematic discursive and sociological analysis of these texts to determine how the genre functioned as a central medium of propaganda in forwarding ideologies and practices. Several avadānas are unique within the Buddhist textual corpus for seeking to localise themselves within the history of this region. Nonetheless they have received comparatively little attention within scholarship, paradoxically due to their being pejoratively labelled "propaganda" in European scholarship of the 19th and 20th centuries. Following nuances developed in more recent theoretical studies in propaganda, this project contrarily suggests the category is of upmost utility. It opens up new avenues of research, forcing us into considering avadānas as contextually circumscribed literature and as being structurally designed for didactic purpose. This form of analysis is rarely achieved and I thus contend we do not understand the nature of this important genre.

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