Searching for the Ancient Dalit Buddhist? Uncovering the Outcaste Socio-Economics behind Buddhist Cemetery Asceticism

Searching for the Ancient Dalit Buddhist? Uncovering the Outcaste Socio-Economics behind Buddhist Cemetery Asceticism

Image of laborers in death economy on burning ghat in Kolkata, 1890's

Hybrid (both in-person and Zoom) talk by Prof. Nicholas Witkowski of the University of San Diego Please click on the Register link to attend by Zoom or click on the RSVP link to attend in-person.

Thursday, October 13, 2022
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM (Pacific Time)
243 Royce Hall
Los Angeles, CA
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The practices of the cemetery ascetic (śmāśānika) have long been treated as peripheral (or even antithetical) to our conception of late ancient Indian Buddhist monastic practice. In strong contrast to this classic scholarly conception of the Indian Buddhist monastery, I contend that cemetery asceticisms should be treated as constitutive of monastic institutional orthopraxy, and thus as foundational to our definition of early institutionalized Buddhism. I will argue that Buddhist orthopraxy was reconfigured (and even subverted) due to recruitment into the Buddhist Order of low-/outcaste populations engaged in the deeply impure vocations of the ancient Indian death economy. I hope to show that these newly recruited subaltern monastics challenged Brahmanizing monastic authorities in that they adapted the technēs of the cremation ground into a new brand of “Buddhist” asceticism.

Nicholas Witkowski is Assistant Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of San Diego. His current project, Lifestyles of Impurity, is a study of low-/outcaste monastic communities in first millennium CE South Asia that employs the theoretical armature of historians of the everyday. This book project integrates feminist, Marxist, post-colonialist, and Foucauldian literary-critical approaches to the study of textual sources documenting the socio-religious practices of low-/outcaste communities. What Dr. Witkowski hopes to convey is a nuanced articulation of the social locations of marginality as wellsprings of cultural innovation that continued to resist, challenge, and, in certain key respects, transform Brahmanical imperial discourse and practice across the Sanskrit cosmopolis throughout the first millennium CE.

RSVP for in-person attendance

This event will be hybrid, so please REGISTER above to receive a Zoom link. Please RSVP if you plan to attend in person: There is a clickable link at the bottom of this page. In-person attendees are required to wear a single-use mask, and we are happy to provide you with one if you do not have one. If you are immunocompromised or do not wish to wear a mask, please register to join us by Zoom. Thank you.

Cost : Free and open to the public