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 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.
Gitanjali Surendran, Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School, also Visiting Professor of History at Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
I do not have access to this very important (to me) paper. I have asked the author for a copy, but received no reply. Looking online, all that is available is the abstract, which appears to be a Ph.D. Dissertation at Harvard FAS (Faculty of Arts and Sciences), but is not available. I will try to contact Harvarad FAS to get a copy.
This paper is important because it upends much of the debate around the “modernization” of Indian Buddhism. I distinguish two types of Modernism: 1) Colonialist Modernism, i.e. Modernism driven by the invasion and occupation of South-East Asia by the West, and 2) Indigenous Modernism, i.e. Modernism driven by the internal and self-generated modernization and nationalization projects of South Asian countries. I believe that Surendran’s paper is concerned with the second type of Modernization and Buddhism.
Unfortunately, this is the reply from Harvard OSC: “At the request of the author, this dissertation is unavailable. We apologize for this and advise you to contact the author directly for access – Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication.”
I hope Dr. Surendran is preparing this paper for publication as a book.