Policing what counts

Reflect on how you or others are policing the boundaries of what counts as legitimate or respected Buddhist Studies, in research and teaching.

As a grad student, I had a conversation with faculty who said my dissertation on Buddhism and science would not count as Buddhist Studies by some older established respected senior scholar. As we spoke, that faculty asked, well, who really cares what that senior scholar thinks? Since that scholar’s view is representative of the field, especially of those who impact hiring and publication decisions, then I am affected.

Now as faculty, when I asked on social media how to use contemporary art to teach Buddhist cultures, another scholar simply replied: “don’t.” Their longer explanation was that “Buddhist cultures are very heavily textually grounded” signaling what counts as legitimate Buddhist material and hence respected for teaching and study. There was lively back and forth and others have defended the use of contemporary art. To be sure, premodern Buddhist art is respected, but not contemporary.

In other contexts, I’ve been told by a senior scholar that my question about ethical change is not a question in Buddhist philosophy. I’ve been told by a manuscript reviewer that my case study of a Buddhist healer is not ethnography. Thus, even within Buddhist studies as a field, some folks police their specific disciplinary boundaries. Surely, disciplinary conventions are helpful and provide shared assumptions, methodology, and interest.

Nevertheless, I ask us to consider who continues to police and why? Who and which academic lineages benefit from such policing?

Submitted by Kin Cheung
Assistant Professor of East and South Asian Religions
Moravian University | Department of Global Religions
Pronouns: he, him, his