Ableism and other ills

Submitted by Will Tuladhar-Douglas, Research Fellow, University of Hamburg

The first problem with Buddhist Studies is that it takes place within a system of universities that, with minor exceptions, are completely enclosed in an existing order of commodification (of knowledge, of students, of productivity)—which in turn depends on hidden, brutal, and corrosive ways of knowing and being: individualism, human exceptionalism, market economics, notions of auditability, rank, competitive fitness, eugenics, and so on. Universities (and by extension academia generally) are no longer safe zones of practice for liberatory disciplines, which Buddhist Studies must be. Because articulating a powerful, liberatory Buddhist social science theory and method requires adamantly resisting core Western values, it cannot happen within the university.

A second problem is that Buddhist Studies is caught precariously among a disciplinary ranking: it can never capture the covert privilege of Christian theology, and it will always suffer the stigma of ‘religion’ among the disciplines. Hence no meaningful critique of, for example, neocolonial conservation governance, can be launched from a Buddhist Studies origin. Personally I have evaded this by writing from anthropology or ecology; but to admit that I am using Madhyamika tools to decolonize protected area theory is simply impossible.

A third problem, and a very serious one, is that Buddhist Studies inherits ableism (and a host of other ills) from its Euro-American context. As I have tried to develop a coherent position on autism, Buddhism, and ecology, I have learned that the field of religion and disability is so profoundly driven either by eugenicist modernism or Christian pity narratives that there is literally no place from which to begin. Studying as, with, and for autistic Buddhists worldwide is shocking: the stigma against autism in traditional Buddhist sanghas is overwhelming, while at the same time, the use by white men of autism as a defence of their threatened privilege—within Western Buddhist sanghas, certainly—is impossible to address without comprehensively rejecting the very system of privilege that enables Buddhist studies within the university.