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Haunting the Buddha: Indian Popular Religion and the Formation of Buddhism

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Overview

Early European histories of India frequently reflected colonialist agendas. The idea that Indian society had declined from an earlier Golden Age helped justify the colonial presence. It was said, for example, that modern Buddhism had fallen away from its original identity as a purely rational philosophy that arose in the mythical 5th-century BCE Golden Age unsullied by the religious and cultural practices that surrounded it. In this book Robert DeCaroli seeks to place the formation of Buddhism in its appropriate social and political contexts. It is necessary, he says, to acknowledge that the monks and nuns who embodied early Buddhist ideals shared many beliefs held by the communities in which they were raised. In becoming members of the monastic society these individuals did not abandon their beliefs in the efficacy and the dangers represented by minor deities and spirits of the dead. Their new faith, however, gave them revolutionary new mechanisms with which to engage those supernatural beings. Drawing on fieldwork, textual, and iconographic evidence, DeCaroli offers a comprehensive view of early Indian spirit-religions and their contributions to Buddhism-the first attempt at such a study since Ananda Coomaraswamy's pioneering work was published in 1928. The result is an important contribution to our understanding of early Indian religion and society, and will be of interest to those in the fields of Buddhist studies, Asian history, art history, and anthropology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a bold little book that pushes around some very big problems, and it does what it says it will do: it reopens the question of the relationship between what we call Buddhism and the world of 'spirits' that appears always to have surrounded it."—Gregory Schopen, Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA

"A thoughtful and accessible introduction to the popular traditions present around early Indian Buddhism and the symbiotic grafting that took place among them."—CHOICE

"Robert DeCaroli's book sheds new light on a body of material that is central to our understanding of ancient South Asian cultures. It explores the complex relationship between Buddhist religion and pre-existing popular beliefs and highlights, in an unprecedented way, the impact of local traditions on the formation of Buddhism and its art. This book is valuable to specialists, yet it is accessible and meaningful to a broader audience approaching this important material for the first time."—Kurt Behrendt, Department of Art History, Tyler School of Art, Temple University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195168389
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert DeCaroli is Assistant Professor of Art History at George Mason University.

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