Episode 04 – Negotiating the Layers: Material History in our Teaching, with Abhishek Amar

In this episode, Sarah Richardson speaks with Abishek Amar, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Hamilton College. Abhishek specializes in the archaeological history of South Asian religions, and he is leading a digital research project, Sacred Centers in India, which examines material, culture and texts that reveal histories of the Hindu and Buddhist cities of Gaya and Bodhgaya.

Sarah and Abishek talk about what it means to teach about Indian Buddhism in a small liberal arts college in the U.S. They discuss some of the many ways that Buddhism can be studied, and how a nuanced understanding of the history of Buddhism can be gleaned from modern archaeological sites and how they’ve been reconstructed, and from the examination of material culture more generally.

Show Notes

1:02 – Abhishek introduces himself, his research and his interests

1:43 – Hamilton College, demographics, landscapes and student interests

2:55 – Abhishek’s Indian Buddhism course

4:43 – Student exposure to Buddhist materiality

6:18 – Summary of Gregory Schopen’s article Archaeology and Protestant Presuppositions in the Study of Indian Buddhism.

11:29 – How sites like Bodh Gaya and Nalanda are monumentalized and reconstructed

17:19 – Types of remains found in village sites

18:15 – Abhishek’s digital humanities project, Sacred Centers of India

19:17 – The physical relationship between Gaya and Bodh Gaya

22:36 – Technologies used to create scans of monuments

23:09 – Sharing models and scans with students

27:20 – Digital project collecting various artifacts from Bodh Gaya

29:22 – Potential problems and possibilities of exposure of Buddhist and Hindu artifacts

33:51 – Engaging students with complex layers of history

36:49 – Student engagement with course readings

39:14 – Methods of explaining concepts in class settings using material objects

41:37 – Abhishek’s new course “Business, Buddhism and the State”

44:52 – How personal research develops alongside teaching

45:50 – Abhishek’s personal formation and education at JNU

49:09 – How to avoid perpetrating the myth of the decline of Buddhism in India

55:39 – Traveling to India with undergraduate students

56:41 – Teaching developments and future progress

58:55 – Endings

Resources Mentioned

Kevin Trainor’s book, Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide, published by Oxford University Press, in 2004.

Gregory Schopen’s 1991 article, “Archaeology and Protestant Presuppositions in the Study of Indian Buddhism” in History of Religions 31(1), pp. 1-23.

Abhishek Amar’s book, Cross-disciplinary Biography of a Contested Buddhist Site, edited jointly with David Geary (Oxford University, UK), and Matthew R. Sayers (Lebanon Valley College, USA), London: Routledge Publication, 2012.

Abhishek Amar’s 2012 article, “Bodhgaya and Gaya: Buddhist Responses to the Hindu Challenges in Early India,” in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 22(1), pp. 155-185.