An American Buddhist, an Australian Buddhist, a Singaporean Buddhist, and the Elephant in the room called “Faith”


I’ll be attending the Translating Buddhism conference in York St John University in a few days. I’ve organised a panel with Ron Purser of SFSU and Anna Halafoff of Deakin University.

I’m quite (narcissistically) pleased with myself for coming up with the title for the panel. And I have half a mind to bring an elephant sock puppet to the presentations.

But anyway, this is the panel abstract (you may download it here):

An American Buddhist, an Australian Buddhist, a Singaporean Buddhist, and the Elephant in the room called “Faith”

The papers in this panel will contemplate on the role of faith in supporting the translation of Buddhism from Asian to Western contexts as well as the Dharmic-scholarly profession of the Buddhist academic. Faith is understood here performatively in a generalised and nondoctrinal sense: as the implicit gifting and inviting of trustworthiness which hosts the encounter for any communicative exchange or reciprocal relation, whether it be encounters between persons, between persons and sets of knowledge, or between the differing legacies of diverse heritages. This elementary or ‘empty’ faith as a precondition and basic act of trust is performed, for example, when we shake the hand of a business partner, or when we sign off letters with “Yours faithfully” or “Sincerely yours” We might speak of it as “good faith”. Yet, the question of faith and its enabling role in scholarly work is not something that we speak about, even as when we gather in collegiality for dialogical inquiry and learning.

The panel will draw attention to, and demonstrate the productiveness of cultivating collective mindfulness of, this proverbial elephant in the room called “faith”. In showcasing the collaborative works developed between an American Buddhist, an Australian Buddhist, and a Singaporean Buddhist, the papers in the panel do not merely treat faith as an object of knowledge, but will affirm the performative function of faith in enabling any subject of conversation or learning, including the ones shaping the cultural translation of Buddhism today.

Paper 1

In “Who Knows? In Mindfulness We Trust”, Ron Purser and Edwin Ng will examine debates about contemporary mindfulness to elucidate how Buddhist and secular advocates of the practice grapple with a shared conundrum of “who knows?” This is an appeal of trust or good faith in the unactualised potential of their respective approaches to mindfulness, an open question of the possibilities or dangers which their divergent approaches may or may not lead to. We argue that acknowledging the question of faith as a shared conundrum is a small but important step to take to decolonialise the (unacknowledged) bad habits of ideological or epistemological one-upmanship in existing debates about mindfulness, bad habits conditioned by a Westerncentric regime of dualistic reasoning that misconstrues religious commitment as diametrically opposed to scientific inquiry.

Paper 2

In “Buddhist Life Stories of Australia”, Anna Halafoff and Edwin Ng will share findings from the world’s first crowdfunded research project on Buddhism. The project was initiated in consultation with representatives of Buddhist organisations, who highlighted the need to record the oral history of key figures and movements which have played a prominent role in translating Buddhism in an Australian context. Interviews were conducted and filmed in 2015 across the country and made available on a website that can be used as an educational resource. Good faith was developed between the Buddhist ‘insider’ researchers and Australia’s diverse Buddhist communities which enabled them to successfully fundraise and collaboratively plan and complete the first stage of the project.

Paper 3

In “How should we say ‘I’ in the study of a contemporary Buddhism-in-translation?”, Edwin Ng will facilitate and participate in a conversation with Ron Purser and Anna Halafoff to consider the role of self-reflexive accounts in the study of contemporary Buddhism. It will explore how sharing diverse personal and professional experiences of a Buddhism-in-translation, might help Buddhist practitioner-scholars cultivate critical mindfulness of the colonial legacy of Buddhist Studies (and the Western intellectual paradigm in general), as well as any unacknowledged conceits or ideological imperatives that might be circumscribing the cultural translation of Buddhism. This encounter of intellectual hospitality, mutual recognition and reciprocal learning—between the panellists and between the panellists and the audience—must be hosted by an implicit gifting and inviting of trustworthiness: a practice of good faith.





2 thoughts on “An American Buddhist, an Australian Buddhist, a Singaporean Buddhist, and the Elephant in the room called “Faith”

  1. Gary Gach says:

    Obviously an idea whose time has come. I would appreciate hearing back after the conference as to reports, papers filed, etc. I’m keenly appreciative, personally, of the inclusion translation in the overall banner for the conference. There are now two academies in the US with a degree in Literary Translation, which is a Swiss-Army knife of multiple skill sets, from linguistics to post-colonialist theory. In my own career, confronting, say, Wang Wei in the original has deeply informed my sense of my own practice of Dharma.


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