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Lecture Series: The Invention of the Modern Religious Bookshelf | Katja Triplett: What if Christian saints turn out to be Buddhists? The Barlaam and Josaphat legend in Japan and its afterlives

Jun 21, 2023 | 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM

Organised by Christian Meyer, project The Invention of the Modern Religious Bookshelf: Canons, Concepts and Communities, Research Area 3: "Future Perfect". This event is part of the lecture series The Invention of the Modern Religious Bookshelf.

When two learned Japanese, father and son, translated stories from a popular European collection of saints legends for the early modern Jesuit mission in Japan, they encountered the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat. The translated legend eventually appeared in a small book printed on the imported European printing press in 1591. One can assume that the two Japanese converts must have immediately realised that the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat closely resembles the hagiographic life story of the Buddha Śākyamuni which was well-known in Japan. However, it is not clear whether the early modern Jesuits and their teams ever suspected that the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat was, in fact, the pious life story of the Buddha. While its narrative plot remained relatively stable throughout centuries of linguistic translation outside of Buddhist India, knowledge of its Buddhist origin became lost. Early modern missionaries reintroduced it to Buddhist Japan as a Christian legend, arguably being ignorant of its origin. The lecture will briefly introduce the complex genesis of the Iberian version, used by the Japanese translators, from its Sanskrit “original” via Middle Persian, Arabic, Georgian, Greek and, finally, Latin, to its Japanese translation. The lecture will focus on exploring how Catholic missionaries in the Counter-Reformation period sought to establish a Post-Tridentine bookshelf of religious literature in the Far East. By reference to the Barlaam and Josaphat legend, the lecture will offer some thoughts on how to analyse the global flows of narrative plots that were felt to be particularly attractive, from a study-of-religions perspective.

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Time & Location

Jun 21, 2023 | 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM

Freie Universität Berlin
Room 2.2051
Fabeckstraße 23-25
14195 Berlin