The project seeks to uncover and identify the dynamics of cultural encounter and religious transfer in pre-modern Eastern Central Asia, a vast area extending from the Taklamakan desert to Northeastern China, as exemplified by the spread, development and inculturation of Buddhism in this there. Thus the religious exchanges that took place involved a variety of cultures and civilisations, which in various ways were transformed and shaped by their adoption of Buddhism. One specific aspect of this process in Eastern Central Asia was the rise of a number of local forms of Buddhism. This project intends to investigate such Buddhist localisations as they came about in the period between the 6th–14th centuries.
It is hoped that the project will create a new trans-regional and trans-cultural vision of the religious transfer in Eastern Central Asian history and will reconstruct this Buddhist network with its entities and relations. It will incorporate the fascinating, but as yet under-researched field of Eastern Central Asian Buddhism into a broader research agenda of Comparative Religious Studies. It will establish a new research approach by bringing together many research fields and agendas (such as Philology, Art History, Archaeology, Religious Studies) into one synthesising narrative based on a unique perspective, in which, religious exchange in Eastern Central Asia will be analysed as a dynamic network emerging in its spatial and temporal aspects. For the first time the multi-layered relationships between the trans-regional Buddhist traditions (Chinese, Indian, Tibetan) and those based on local Buddhist cultures (Tocharian, Khotanese, Uyghur, Tangut, Kitan) will be explored in a systematic way.
The research to be undertaken has been conceptualised as falling under seven primary fields, which will fucntion as the over-all headings for the various lesser themes which the project seeks to elucidate. These major fields are as follows: