Freitag, 04. Oktober 2019, 15:15 - 16:45 iCal

The Problem with Buddhism

Reflections on Unorthodox Monasticism among the Tai Lue of Southwest China

Public lecture by Roger Casas | Institute for Social Anthropology |Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna

Seminarraum 1 des Instituts für Südasien- , Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2.7, 1090 Wien


On the lecture:

In spite of a long series of canonical studies, and of the increasingly heightened attention paid to local particularism and to the ‘lived’ aspects of religiosity, the anthropology of Buddhism continues to be an ‘emerging project’ (Sihlé and Ladwig 2017). The original delimitation of the field by religious studies scholars, as well as the subsequent dependence on textual authority and on intellectualist definitions of religion, still cast a shadow over this project. Particularly, the question of ‘defining the boundary between what counts as Buddhism, and what is not Buddhism’ (Gellner 2001), may be said to remain a recurrent challenge for scholars approaching this tradition from an anthropological perspective.

In this presentation I will explore the potential for a broader conception of the religious field and of Buddhism in particular, through an ethnographically informed look at monasticism in Sipsong Panna (Chin.: Xishuangbanna), a multi-ethnic region in Southwest China, home to the largest community of Theravada Buddhists in the country, the Tai Lue. Monastics in this region are conspicuous for publicly engaging in practices commonly seen in neighbouring countries as inappropriate and even incompatible with monasticism, such as eating in the afternoons, practicing sports, drinking alcohol, or flirting with girls. Instead of dismissing such engagement as a sign of degeneration or corruption, I will argue that obtaining a proper notion of such unorthodox practices is fundamental for comprehending contemporary forms of monasticism in the region. The discussion will make the case for the need to broaden the ‘conceptual toolkit’ of the anthropologist to include fields of action and spheres of values that not only do not accord with current trans-local and academic understandings of Buddhist traditions, but may even appear as alien to the field of ‘the religious’ itself.



On the lecturer:

Roger Casas has lived and worked in Sipsong Panna and other areas of China for extended periods since 2001. He obtained a PhD from the Australian National University with a study of the interplay between monasticism and masculinity that was awarded the 2015 Thesis of the Year prize by the Australian Anthropological Society. At present he works as a researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. His current project continues his long engagement with Sipsong Panna, this time focusing on the interplay between Buddhism, economic action and gender among the Tai Lue people. His recent published articles include “The Buddhist Basketball Association: Sport Practice and the Cultivation of the Body among Tai Lue Monastics” (Asia Pacific Journal of Sport and Social Science, 6, 2017), and “The ‘Khanan Dream:’ Engagements of Former Buddhist Monks with the Market Economy in Sipsong Panna, P. R. China” (The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 16, 2016)


Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde


Judith Starecek
Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde
4277 43502