MSAS Seminar: Buddhism and Marginality in Translation among Ambedkarites in East Asia

Speaker: Jon Keune (Michigan State University)

Chair: Yasser Kureshi


As Ambedkarite Buddhists have increasingly migrate outside India in the past thirty years, they interact with other Buddhist traditions and socio-political contexts that prompt new considerations of Buddhism and marginality. Ambedkar’s rationalist vision of Buddhism focused on social transformation, explicitly responding to caste-based discrimination in modern India. Ambedkarite Buddhists carry on this legacy while exploring further what Buddhism means to them. Over the past thirty years, they have found new inspiration and challenges through increased contact with Buddhists from Japan and Taiwan, and as Ambedkarites migrate to East Asia and beyond. When cross-cultural, inter-sectarian Buddhist encounters occur, what happens to the idea of social equality, which Ambedkarites historically viewed in terms of caste difference in India and now adjust to reckon with new experiences of ethnic difference? How do people reckon the idea of “Buddhism” function as a universal religion (valid for everyone) with the context-sensitive visions of equality and experiences of marginality as they move across cultural contexts?

Jon Keune is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Michigan State University, focusing on religion, social history, and cross-cultural translation. His earlier research worked with Marathi language sources to explore caste and social equality in Hindu devotional traditions, which he published numerous articles and book chapters, a co-edited volume Hindu Communities of Devotion in India: Outsiders, Insiders, and Interlopers (Routledge, 2019), and a monograph Shared Devotion, Shared Food: Equality and the Bhakti-Caste Question in Western India (Oxford, 2021). His recent research explores transnational Buddhism and Dalit migration from India to East Asia and elsewhere. He is currently a Fulbright Global Scholar based in the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.


All are welcome


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