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Buddhism in Central Asia


The Buddha, who flourished around 500 BC, is believed to have achieved enlightenment in eastern India. But the earliest evidence for Early Buddhism, and for the Normative Buddhism that developed in the first or second century AD, comes from Gandhara, a country in the southeastern corner of Central Asia (now in Afghanistan) and northwestern corner of India (now in Pakistan). Scholars of Buddhism have written much on legendary ¿early¿ Buddhism, but what was the earliest known Buddhism really like? What do the early accounts say the Buddha actually taught? Normative Buddhism, too, with the first Buddhist monasteries and monasticism itself, was apparently invented in Central Asia after Alexander the Great¿s conquests and the Hellenization of the entire region, including Gandhara. Central Asian monks from the Parthian and Kushan empires made many exciting innovations, developing Buddhist philosophy and science as well as Gandharan Buddhist art, a stunning blend of Classical Greek, Central Asian, and Indian art. They also introduced Central Asian Buddhism to China and the rest of East Asia. This course requires no previous knowledge of Buddhism or Central Asia.

Regions Covered

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Historical Central Eurasia

When Taught

Fall 2013


Department of Central Eurasian Studies