From Ashoka to Xuanzang: The Buddhist Millenium in Western Central Asia

This article by Sören Stark and Annette Juliano first appeared in ISAW Newsletter 25 (Fall 2019).

Four women and a man are seated at a large table in a wood paneled room. Several are taking notes. Laptop computers and books are in use on the table-top. Judith Lerner, Emily Everest-Phillips, Fanghan Wang, Sören Stark, and Annette Juliano in class. This fall semester Profs. Juliano and Stark are teaching a research seminar on Buddhism in Western Central Asia. Originating in India’s Gangetic plain, it was the first proselytizing religion to spread over large parts of the Ancient world, finding its way into countries and cultures very different from its area of origin. Western Central Asia played an important and multifaceted role in the dissemination and subsequent development of Buddhist communities, doctrines, and iconographies. In our class we will systematically discuss the archaeological evidence – from the Hindukush regions of ‘Greater Gandhara,’ over Bactria/Tokharistan, Khorasan, up to the Chu and Talas area north of the Tianshan. We will approach questions about trade and patronage networks as important conduits for the original spread of Buddhism outside of India, the most important visual and non-visual media involved, and the artistic dialogue between Buddhist and non-Buddhist iconographies in Western Central Asia. Finally, we will look into the legacy of Buddhism after the coming of Islam to many regions of this vast area.