PRESENTER: Matthew King, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion
TITLE: The Invention of Buddhism in Revolutionary Mongolia (1911-1937)
ABSTRACT: With the dissolution of first the Qing and the Tsarist empires in the second decade of the twentieth century, Mongolia experienced a nationalist and then a socialist revolution. In the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric of later Soviet-era historiography, this was a uni-directional ‘awakening’ of the Mongolian national spirit after centuries of social inequality and class conflict. Against this normative historical picture, the ‘Two Revolutions’ were periods of intense creativity, where Buddhist monks, nobles, Russian commissars, and radicals alike competed to define the boundaries of a newly imagined Mongolian people and nation-state. This paper examines the ways in which Buddhist monastic elites responded to Asia’s first modern revolution, highlighting especially the introduction of terms and concepts of European Buddhology newly circulating in Inner Asia at this time. It will show how the Romantic Orientalist fantasies of Victorian Europe were put to use by increasingly defensive monastics arguing for a ‘rational’, socialist Mongolian modernity inclusive of Buddhism.