Huntington’s Paper Spurs Major Buddhism Symposium

March 9, 2010

A scholarly disagreement about how to read and interpret ancient Buddhist text has led to a three-day gathering of some of the field's foremost scholars, with a member of Hartwick's faculty at the center of the discussion.

In June 2007, Hartwick College Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of Religious Studies and Philosophy Sandy Huntington published "The nature of the Madhyamika trick" in The Journal of Indian Philosophy. His paper argued for a literary reading of Nagarjuna, the founder of the Madhyamaka school in the 2nd century CE. Huntington asserted that philosophers who seek to understand Madhyamaka through modern symbolic logic miss the point.

A year later, Smith College Professor of Philosophy Jay Garfield responded in the same journal, defending the use of symbolic logic, as well as the general approach to Nagarjuna in terms of rational categories familiar to students' Anglo-American philosophy.

This back-and-forth has so captured the attention of Buddhism scholars that it will be the centerpiece of a three-day symposium at Smith College from April 23 to 25 titled "Madhyamaka & Methodology: A Symposium on Buddhist Theory and Method."

In addition to Huntington and Garfield, 14 other prominent Buddhism experts will convene at Smith, including renowned scholars Geshe Ngawang Samten and Professor David Eckel. Geshe Ngawang Samten, director and vice chancellor of the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India, is a Tibetan scholar of the highest order who has published widely in the field of Buddhist studies. Eckel, of Boston University, has been publishing on Buddhism for 25 years, and has committed 24 lectures to videotape, helping bring the study of the field to countless students.

The scholars will include philosophers and historians, textualists and ethnographers, specialists in logic, literature, and esoteric Buddhism (tantra) as well as India, Tibet, and East Asia. These experts were chosen because they represent a range of viewpoints, such that the symposium can function as a high- level conversation, with many complementary yet opposing perspectives and areas of expertise, organizers said.

To make the symposium available to the widest possible audience, organizers intend to capture the entire event on video, and make it available via the Five College Buddhist Studies Web site and YouTube.

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,480 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive curriculum emphasizes a uniquely experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a unique January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for the world ahead. A Three Year Bachelor’s Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Christopher Lott
Phone: 607-431-4030