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7 - The Quest for the Historical Buddha

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2023

Philip C. Almond
Affiliation:
University of Queensland
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Summary

Chapter 7 explores the Copernican revolution in the Western study of Buddhism in the first fifty years of the nineteenth century. It argues that it occurred in two moments, the first of which was necessary for the second to occur. The first was the creation of the term ‘Buddhism’ at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Over the next fifty years, this term and a variety of linguistic variants in European languages appeared in the West and became the norm. The second and crucial moment was the creation of Buddhism as an object defined predominantly in terms of its own textuality. Thus, from 1820 to 1860, Buddhism came to exist in the ‘Oriental’ libraries, institutes, learned societies, and universities of the West. It was discovered in its texts and manuscripts on the desks of the European scholars who laboriously learned the languages, read the texts, and translated, interpreted, and published them. The chapter shows how, in the early 1820s, the Buddha left the world of myth and began to become a figure in history.

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The Buddha
Life and Afterlife Between East and West
, pp. 247 - 282
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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