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Individuals and societies make sense of their lives through narrative. One major avenue for grafting new constituencies onto a movement is to incorporate them narratively—to provide a story through which they can interpret their own situations and actions to themselves and others in a gratifying manner. The contention of this paper is that a major strategy of certain Mahāyāna Sūtras is the narrative incorporation of the reader/listener: a rhetoric that invites the reader to imagine him/herself as a hero/ine in a romantic tale of the ultimate triumph of the glorious Mahāyāna. The social function these works play in providing appealing counter-narratives to those advanced by the Mainstream/Śrāvaka traditions is in some sutras, at least, of equal or greater centrality to their project than the function commonly theorized: claiming authoritative sanction for new religious doctrines.
Christian Wedemeyer is an historian of religions whose interests comprehend theory and method in the human sciences, the history of modern scholarship on religion and culture, and issues of history, textuality, and ritual in the Buddhist traditions. Within these very general domains, much of his research has concerned the esoteric (Tantric) Buddhism of India and Tibet. He has written on the modern historiography of Tantric Buddhism; antinomianism in the Indian esoteric traditions; canonicity, textual criticism, and strategies of legitimating authority in classical Tibetan scholasticism; and the semiology of esoteric Buddhist ritual. His most recent book, Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions (Columbia University Press, 2012), received the 2013 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion (Historical Studies).