Todd Lewis: "Reconfiguration and Revival: Newar Buddhist Traditions in the Kathmandu Valley (and Beyond)"
Todd Lewis, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA
Todd Lewis has taught in the Religious Studies Department at the College of the Holy Cross since 1990 and is holder of the Murray Distinguished Professorship in the Arts and Humanities since 2014; he is also a Research Associate in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University. Beginning with his scholarly training at Columbia University (where he earned his Ph.D. in Religion 1984), Professor Lewis' research and teaching has been interdisciplinary, linking anthropology, the history of religions, and Indology. His area of special expertise is Newar Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, and he has written extensively about Buddhist narratives, their depiction in popular art, and the role of merchants in Buddhist history. Lewis has resided in the Asan Tol neighborhood in the city of Kathmandu for his dissertation research (1979-1982), and for three postdoctoral fellowships (1987, 1997-8, 2012), all supported by the Fulbright-Hayes program in the Department of Education. Professor Lewis has also received funding from, most recently, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Philosophical Society. In 2011, he was awarded a fellowship by the Simon Guggenheim Foundation. In addition to over forty articles published in leading academic journals and invited chapters contributed to edited scholarly volumes, Professor Lewis has published two books on Newar Buddhism. The first was Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal: Narratives and Rituals of Newar Buddhism (State University of New York Press, 2000). More recent was Sugata Saurabha: A Poem on the Life of the Buddha by Chittadhar Hridaya of Nepal, one of the landmarks in 20th Century Newar literature, its translation in collaboration with Subarna Man Tuladhar of Kathmandu. The Oxford University Press edition published in 2011 won two international awards: the Toshide Numata Book Prize for the Outstanding Book in the field of Buddhist Studies (2011) and the Inaugural Prize for the Outstanding Translation in Buddhist Scholarship (2012) by the Khyentse Foundation. This translation will be released for global distribution in late 2018 by Shambhala Press. Recent books include the textbook, Buddhists: Understanding Buddhism Through the Lives of Practitioners published in 2014 by Wiley-Blackwell; and Teaching Buddhism: New Insights on Understanding and Presenting the Traditions, in the "Teaching Religion" series sponsored by the American Academy of Religion and published in 2015 by Oxford University Press.
Beginning with Sylvain Lévi, most scholars for the past century who have assessed the state of Newar Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley have described the tradition as “decadent,” “corrupted by Hinduism,” and so in serious decline. Many predicted its withering away, most often due to competition from the reformist Theravādins, a movement that arrived in Nepal a century ago. The predations of the modern Nepalese state with its staunchly Hindu biases have also been a central axis of analysis. What has emerged over the last decade, however, is a hitherto unimagined revival among traditional Newar Buddhists and their venerable tradition centered on Mahāyāna-Vajrayāna teachings and practices. Led by younger Buddhist vajrācāryas and scholars, leaders have introduced a welter of new spiritual initiatives, institutional innovations, along with gender and caste reforms; supported by wealthy merchants, newly-rich landholders, and a growing number of migrants living abroad, Newar Buddhist traditions have shown a remarkable resiliency and vibrancy. The talk will sketch this confluence of reconfigurations and revivals, with special focus on how these factors converged in the nearly-completed construction of a Newar Vajrayāna monastery in Lumbini.
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