Copenhagen ADI Conference 2017
9th annual international ADI conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative
University of Copenhagen 26-28 June 2017 

Trade and Translation of Buddhist Material Culture across Asia

Trine Brox, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen; Emma Martin, Institute for Cultural Practices, University of Manchester

Historically, trade routes served as transmission belts for Buddhist theology. The nexus between trade and Buddhism is most commonly understood in the spread of Buddhist theology and art across Asia. Today, this practice continues to grow and diversify. The spread of Buddhism has contributed to the development of new markets and a growing industry in Buddhist objects, artefacts, paraphernalia, and merchandise. Moreover, Buddhism is also a value that is traded. This traded value includes statues and scriptures, but also comes in the form of immaterial value; namely in the promises or potential that are ascribed to objects, artefacts and paraphernalia that are considered or are branded as Buddhist.

This panel calls for papers dealing with the translations and transformations of Buddhism in relation to the trade in Buddhist things. Such objects can be Buddhist because they represent commodified Buddhism, are objects needed for Buddhist practice, or products marketed as Buddhist. By engaging in discussions regarding the trade and translation of Buddhist material culture we want to develop new analytical approaches and ask how trade practices translate and transform objects related to Buddhism. We aim to build a broad geographical understanding of practice. Therefore, possible subjects might include the trade in amulets in Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam, or the global trade in Tibetan painted scrolls produced in Nepal, India and China. We are also interested in other Buddhist objects that are traded, including offerings for the Buddhist altar, religious images and statues, prayer beads, charms, monastic paraphernalia, and so forth.

A further area for discussion relates to the people who need such objects for their Buddhist practice, for the Buddhist temple, or for inserting the spiritual in an otherwise secular, modern world. How are these Buddhist things translated and transformed as they change hands from the artisan in the workshop, to the petty merchant, the art dealer, the tourist, the Buddhist practitioner, the ritual specialist and so forth? How do these things become Buddhist?

Keywords: Asia, Buddhism, Buddhist objects, capitalism, globalization, markets, material culture, trade, transformation, translation.