The objective of the research project Buddhist Road is to create a new framework to enable understanding of the complexities in the dynamics of cultural encounter and religious transfer in pre-modern Eastern Central Asia—the vast area extending from the Taklamakan desert to Northeast China. This region was the crossroads of ancient civilisations. Its uniqueness was determined by complex dynamics of religious and cultural exchanges gravitating around an ancient communication artery, known as the Silk Road. Buddhism was one major factor in this exchange; its transfer predetermined the transfer of adjacent aspects of culture.
The religious exchange involved a variety of cultures and civilisations, which were modified and shaped by their adoption of Buddhism. The spread of Buddhism overrode the ethnic and linguistic boundaries in Eastern Central Asia creating a civilisational whole, which despite its diversity, shared a set of common ideas originating from Buddhism. One specific aspect of this process in Eastern Central Asia was the rise of the local forms of Buddhism. The project intends to investigate such Buddhist localisations between the 6th–14th centuries. As a scholar with over 20 years research background in Buddhist Studies, at the Tibetan-Chinese interface, project leader Carmen Meinert is recognised as an expert in the field.
The team of the research project will create a new trans-regional and trans-cultural vision of the religious transfer in Eastern Central Asian history and will reconstruct this Buddhist network with its entities and relations. It will incorporate the fascinating, but as yet under-researched field of Eastern Central Asian Buddhism into a broader research agenda of Comparative Religious Studies. It will establish a new research approach by bringing together many research fields and agendas (such as Philology, Art History, Archaeology, Religious Studies) into one synthesising narrative based on a unique perspective, in which, religious exchange in Eastern Central Asia will be analysed as a dynamic network emerging in its spatial and temporal aspects. For the first time the multi-layered relationships between the trans-regional Buddhist traditions (Chinese, Indian, Tibetan) and those based on local Buddhist cultures (Khotanese, Uyghur, Tangut, Kitan) will be explored in a systematic way.