"The Indian Discovery of Buddhism": Buddhist Revival in India, c. 1890-1956

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"The Indian Discovery of Buddhism": Buddhist Revival in India, c. 1890-1956

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Title: "The Indian Discovery of Buddhism": Buddhist Revival in India, c. 1890-1956
Author: Surendran, Gitanjali
Citation: Surendran, Gitanjali. 2013. "The Indian Discovery of Buddhism": Buddhist Revival in India, c. 1890-1956. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines attempts at the revival of Buddhism in India from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. Typically, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism in 1956 is seen as the start of the neo-Buddhist movement in India. I see this important post-colonial moment as an endpoint in a larger trajectory of efforts at reviving Buddhism in India. The term "revival" itself arose as a result of a particular understanding of Indian history as having had a Buddhist phase in the distant past. Buddhism is also seen in the historiography as a British colonial discovery (or "recovery") for their Indian subjects viz. a range of archaeological and philological endeavors starting in the early decades of the nineteenth century. I argue that there was a quite prolific Indian discourse on Buddhism starting from the late nineteenth century that segued into secret histories of cosmopolitanism, modernity, nationalism and caste radicalism in India. In this context I examine a constellation of figures including the Sri Lankan Buddhist ideologue and activist Anagarika Dharmapala, Buddhist studies scholars like Beni Madhab Barua, the Hindi writer, socialist, and sometime Buddhist monk Rahula Sankrityayana, the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and Ambedkar himself among others, to explicate how Buddhism was constructed and deployed in the service of these ideologies and pervaded both liberal and radical Indian thought formations. In the process, Buddhism came to be characterized as both a universal and national religion, as the first modern faith system long before the actual advent of the modern age, as a system of ethics that espoused liberal values, an ethos of gender and caste equality, and independent and rational thinking, as a veritable civil religion for a new nation, and as a liberation theology for Dalits in India and indeed for the entire nation. My dissertation is about the people, networks, ideas and things that made this possible.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11181168
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