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Empires of Faith: South Asia as Field of Global Religious Interaction-Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages


FNO 02/ 40-46


From the global perspective, South Asia is seen as a source of Buddhism and, at a slightly later date, of Hinduism. Of Jainism little is known outside specialist circles despite its considerable influence on India proper. The approach to all these religions has been essentialist and inward looking: defined a priori as unchanging, South Asia matters historically only to the degree that religions have come from there or, inversely, that Christianity and Islam have managed to take root there. Interactions between traditions, fundamental to the development of distinct identities, are a subject being in its infancy, most especially between the first century BCE and the eleventh century CE.
Although Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are certainly distinct, they developed in synchrony and shared doctrinal features such as the doctrine of karma. The coeval codification of canonical literature and the simultaneous emergence of temples, endowments and image worship across traditions in the fourth and fifth centuries CE are also noteworthy. Despite these commonalities, religious interaction is not well understood, mainly because the practice of rhetoric in early India normally precluded direct polemic attack. Moreover, the fragmentary nature of the evidence often means that the views of those involved in religious debates are only partly known. While many historical difficulties are bound to remain, problems can be addressed through a contextual study of literature and inter-textuality, the use of archaeological and epigraphic data, and the application of landscape archaeology to understand how religious dispensations defined and occupied sacred space. This workshop is dedicated to an exploration of some of these issues.

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