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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 6.2 (2023): 1–17;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Local Society)

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What is Local Buddhism?

Timothy BROOK
University of British Columbia

Abstract: My research on Buddhism has largely been concerned with the localisation of Buddhist institutions, that is, their situatedness within the immediate society, economy, and culture of where they existed. To pursue that research, I drew on the evidence of local texts (such as gazetteers) as well as pilgrimage texts. I now wonder whether my use of sources was too promiscuous in overriding the differences between local worshippers who organised their lives around one particular religious institution, and pilgrims who toured a site only once. Did the difference in their experience of place entail a different understanding of Buddhism, and if so, was it simply the difference between popular and elite religion, or was it something else? To explore this problem, which I will call tourist Buddhism, I examine the treatment of three sites in the standard Qing Buddhist pilgrimage handbook, Canxue zhijin 參學知津 [Knowing the Fords on the Way to Knowledge], comparing these accounts with locally-based documentation in order to explore the subtle and unstable relationship between local Buddhism and translocal religion.

Keywords: local Buddhism, translocal religion, pilgrimage, Dong Qichang, Wutaishan, Wudangshan, Wushan


About the Author: Timothy Brook is a historian of China whose writings reach out to embrace world history. A graduate of Harvard University, he has taught at Toronto, Stanford, and Oxford, and has held the Republic of China Chair at the University of British Columbia since 2004, where he graduated to professor emeritus in 2022. Brook has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Getty Fellow, a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and a visiting professor at the Villa I Tatti in Florence. A historian of China since the thirteenth century, he writes on a range of political, social, and cultural topics, though with a focus on China’s engagements with the world. Brook has published thirteen books, which have been translated into many Asian and European languages. In addition, he was editor-in-chief of Harvard University Press’s six-volume history of imperial China, which became a bestseller in China. Among his more popular books are Vermeer’s Hat (Bloomsbury), Mr. Selden’s Map of China (Penguin), and Great State: China and the World (HarperCollins).


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