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The Making of Buddhist Modernism$
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David L. McMahan

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195183276

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195183276.001.0001

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Modernity and the Discourse of Scientific Buddhism

Modernity and the Discourse of Scientific Buddhism

(p.89) 4 Modernity and the Discourse of Scientific Buddhism
The Making of Buddhist Modernism

David L. McMahan (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter shows, with attention to the social, political, and polemical contexts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ways Buddhists and Buddhist sympathizers attempted to align Buddhism with scientific rationalism. A discourse of scientific Buddhism emerged in the context of two intertwined crises: the Victorian crisis of faith in the West and the crisis of colonialism and western hegemony in Asia. In Ceylon, Anagarika Dharmapala promoted the image of Buddhism as scientific to counter denigrations of Buddhism by colonialists and missionaries and to assert its superiority to Christianity. Paul Carus, who through science had lost his faith in traditional Christianity, presented Buddhism as a part of a triumphal vision of science that would eventually lead to a universal “religion of science.” Henry Steel Olcott saw Buddhism as representing an “occult science” aligned with Theosophy and spiritualism.

Keywords:   Anagarika Dharmapala, Paul Carus, Henry Steel Olcott, Victorian crisis of faith, World’s Parliament of Religions, colonialism, Ceylon, Theosophy, Buddhism and science

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