Silk Roads in a Westphalian Barn: Start-Up Conference of BuddhistRoad

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Ruhr-Universität Bochum’s International Convention Center is situated in a rustic Old-Westphalian barnyard. It is at this location, where the international start-up conference of the research project BuddhistRoad takes place. For three days, more than thirty experts from European, Asian and American universities and research institutions discuss Buddhism’s spread on the Central Asian Silk Road system.

In their presentations, all the participants underline how important the terrestrial system of roads has been not only for the exchange of material goods, but especially for cultural practices and religious ideas: It was overland how Buddhism found its way from its region of origin on the Northern Indian subcontinent to the densely populated regions of East Asia in China. On this way Buddhist ideas were influenced by local traditions and gave rise to new forms.

Among others, the conference Establishing of Buddhist Nodes in Eastern Central Asia 6th to 14th c.—Part I: Sacred Space, Pilgrimage, Patronage, Legitimation Strategies especially focusses the spatial dimension of the spread. Which role did sacred spaces play? How did pilgrimage influenced the processes of transfer and exchange of ideas?

Time and again, the participants emphasize that for a long time academic research was too often concentrated on the maritime margins of the Eurasian continent: Whether it was East Asia with China and Japan, the Indian subcontinent, the Middel East as transit from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean or the European peninsula – Central Asia is widely underestimated and under-researched. Thus, especially this continental transit region needs more attention by researching its vast culturally and religiously diverse history. Given this, the ERC funded research project BuddhistRoad offers a pioneering approach in the study of religion. Its team involves experts from Germany, Japan, Russia, Denmark and Italy and is led by Tibetologist Carmen Meinert, a professor for Central Asian Religions at the Center for Religious Studies (CERES).

A sequel conference shall be take place in West China in summer 2019.