The Mysterious Case of the Late Antique ‘Budda’ and Its Modern Oblivion

The Mysterious Case of the Late Antique 'Budda' and Its Modern Oblivion

Antonello Palumbo - School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Room B-04, Department of Religious Studies See map
451 College Street
New HAven, CT 06511

Several mentions of the Buddha in the Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity intriguingly cluster in a short period between the 3rd and the 4th c. AD.  Although the triumph of Christianity and Islam as well as geopolitical developments closed the door to further exposure for centuries to come, this knowledge was never entirely lost.  What had been sketched in the testimonies of Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria and Jerome was still available to the likes of Erasmus in the  16th c.  It was also well known to the Jesuit missionaries in Japan and especially China, who brought back to Europe the first substantial accounts of Buddhism.  But these cultural memories were arguably at odds with the missionary imperative to keep Buddhism at a distance and depict its founder as the ultimate alien to European readerships.  With few, revealing exceptions, Jesuit accounts failed to identify the Late Antique ‘Budda’ with the Fo 佛 in front of them.  If this, as it seems, was deliberate, the modern discovery of the Buddha in the West  may have been  premised to a perhaps significant extent on the  unsuspected repression of its distant memories.

Sponsored by the Glorisun Global Network for Buddhist Studies, the Department of Religious Studies, and the Council on East Asian Studies