Dynamics of the Religious Field in the Context of Early Buddhism

The project will focus on the promotion of a religious "range of products" that early Buddhists offered to a competitive market, which was defined by the communicative processes of a multitude of social providers and customers and which was, therefore, subject to permanent change. The surviving evidence of these discourses is predominantly of textual and visual nature. This material will be examined systematically, in order to identify and analyze areas of contention within this market of religious activity. The analysis is guided by certain questions such as: How is symbolic capital applied in order to represent the Buddha-Dharma convincingly? What kinds of media (visual representations, philosophical debates, narrations, ritual demonstrations of religious power etc.), symbolic resources and strategies were applied to achieve this aim? Which emotional and cognitive contexts were evoked, transformed and initiated thereby? Which metaphors were applied and what do they tell us about the envisaged target audience? How did these discourses construct Buddhist institutions and social positions as legitimate representatives of the Buddhist religion? What were the main strategies to promote Buddhist "products" against the supply of competing religious specialists (e.g. re-interpretation, rationalization, moralization, profanation, inclusion, polemics)? Which social reforms were aspired to thereby? How were these Buddhist reforms positioned against differing (especially established) ideas and practices (is there evidence, for example, of a rhetoric of overcoming, civilizing or renaissance ?) How has the alleged superior power of Buddhist ritual practices been legitimated? Did, for example, the idea of the superiority of the Buddhist world-view/metaphysic play a prominent role?

An analysis structured by such questions aims to achieve the empirical reconstruction of common religious conceptualizations and their interconnected nature within the religious field in Ancient India. The main task of the project is to contribute to the research on paradigmatic changes with respect to collective religious expectations, structures of plausibility production, religious functions and needs in the wake of the post-Vedic period of India. With respect to the first focal point of the Research Consortium, the influence of the "discovery of transcendence" on this market will also be investigated. This question will not be restricted to philosophical discourses of a small religious elite - whose influence in the religious field in its totality was but marginal. Instead, the analysis will make it clear that metaphysical/philosophical innovations of the early Buddhists reappear as symbolic capital in a multitude of further social contexts, for example, to promote religious services or to legitimate the status of religious officials. This includes also - or especially - those religious areas which were labeled "folk religions" by earlier research.

Affiliated Persons


Prof. Dr. Sven Bretfeld

Project Leader

Photograph of Dr. Sven Wortmann

Dr. Sven Wortmann

Individual Researcher

Universitätsstr. 90a
44789  Bochum