Oxford Bibliographies/Buddhism (nostalgia)

The Oxford Bibliographies project website announces that it is now five years old!

And the Buddhism module was one of the earliest. We now (June 2016) have 186 entries, 8 more in final production, and a whole bunch more in the works.

Looking through my files, however, I found that planning the architectonic for the Buddhism module actually started about eight years ago. At that time the project was called “Oxford Bibliographies Online,” but Oxford decided to drop the “Online” part since this web thing was not going to go away.

When I was invited to be the Editor-in-Chief of the Buddhism module, I recalled the many years of wandering around the book displays at the American Academy of Religions meetings, seeing several series of detailed studies of individual Biblical texts, and reference works such as dictionaries, concordances, and so on, devoted to Christian and Biblical areas of specialization. At the time Buddhist studies had Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary (1899), Jäschke’s and Das’s Tibetan dictionaries (1934 and 1902, respectively), Houdous and Soothill’s Chinese Buddhist Dictionary (1937), Edgerton’s Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, Grammar and Dictionary (1953), and the Pāli Text Society’s Pāli English Dictionary (1921-25), so on. (dates are not confirmed, just for demonstration purposes).

The paucity and age of research tools at the time has been alleviated somewhat in the intervening years, recently by such excellent works as Buswell’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Buswell and Lopez’s, Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, von Hinuber and Eltschinger’s Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism (now underway),  and in a different style Powers’ The Buddhist World (apologies to everyone overlooked in this brief list given for exemplary purposes only). But Buddhist studies still lags behind Biblical studies—perhaps natural given the scales of magnitude in difference between the textual bases of the two fields.

The possibility of contributing to the research tools available was, therefore, quite appealing—so much so that I said yes. Shortly thereafter, while backpacking in the Sierras, we were laying on a sloping rock watching the night sky, and I began to think about the information that could be made available and how it could be interlinked, like nebulae and wormholes. Although the reality of databases is not so romantic, I know that Oxford University Press has made a major commitment into facilitating electronic media for the benefit of scholars.

This fifth anniversary is an opportunity to thank the other members of the Editorial Board: Matthew Kapstein, Cynthia Bogel, John Strong, and Daniel Veidlinger, as well as the members of the Advisory Board who assisted with the early design of the module.

Particular thanks go to Damon Zucca, who heads the Oxford University Press’s online projects for having seen that the large financial investment would be worth it, to Julia Kostova, who has been a steady inspiration and provided overall guidance, and the several editors who have worked on the project over the years—most recently Adam Freese.

This is also not too early to announce that the Buddhism component of the Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Religion, will go “live” soon. Such a vast project requires two co-editors, and a group of Senior Editors so as to provide complementary area specialization. I am happy that Georgios Halkias has agreed to serve as co-editor. The editorial board includes as Senior Editors: Scott Mitchell, Anne Blackburn, Vesna Wallace, Christian Luczanits, and Francesca Tarocco.

The benefits of being an online encyclopedia are that it can continue to expand and change as the field does, and that revisions can be made without replacing the entirety of an expensive book. The other main benefit is that rather than being at the following edge of scholarship (encyclopedia as established knowledge), the online medium makes it possible for the encyclopedia to serve the development of the field as well.



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