Canonical, Non-Canonical and Extra-canonical: Interdisciplinary and Multi-media Studies of the Formation, Translation and Transmission of Buddhist Texts

Canonical, Non-Canonical and Extra-canonical: Interdisciplinary and Multi-media Studies of the Formation, Translation and Transmission of Buddhist Texts

19th Century Dhammacakkappavattana sutra. Wellcome Library, London.



* Please note that this conference has been relocated and re-themed to the following conference:


Call for Proposals


Canonical, Non-Canonical and Extra-canonical:
Interdisciplinary and Multi-media Studies of the Formation, Translation and Transmission of Buddhist Texts

August 18 to 20, 2023

Mount Wuyi 武夷山, China

International Conference

This conference is hosted by Kuaiji Advanced Institute of Buddhist Studies 會稽山佛學高等研究院, and co-hosted by the Research Center for Buddhist Texts and Art at Peking University and the From the Ground Up: Buddhism and East Asian Religions project at the University of British Columbia ( The conference will take place from August 18 to 20, 2023 on Mount Wuyi 武夷山, Fujian Province.

After the Buddha’s passing, his disciples convened and orally compiled the Buddha’s teaching. This initial council was followed by more to arrange the haphazard compilation of the Buddha’s teaching into an increasingly more authoritative form. However, in early India, the transmission of knowledge mostly took place orally, with the textual tradition being only a late comer in Indian history. The earliest written Buddhist text, according to a recent archaeological finding, was written in the Gandhāran language on birch barks, dated to first or second century BCE. Later in the first century BCE., the Pali Canon was written down, heralding a period of Buddhist transition from the oral to textual tradition. In the fifth century, Buddhism formally entered the manuscript era.

Many manuscripts are still preserved today in the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, written in a score of languages on a diverse range of writing surfaces, including palm leaf, birch balk, leather, bamboo, and paper. In early Chinese Buddhism, manuscript was the main medium for the transmission of Buddhism and remained so until the advent of woodblock printing. The vibrant Buddhist manuscript culture during this period can still be glimpsed from the manuscripts discovered in Dunhuang and Turpan. In the Northern Song (960-1127), woodblock printing started to gain broad currency, partly contributed by Buddhists themselves. While the manuscript canons and the manuscripts of individual scriptures continued being produced, they gradually ceded the central stage to woodblock printing. In Japan, after Buddhism was introduced through China, manuscript canons experienced a longer period of development than in China. Today, we still have a wealth of precious manuscripts from this period in Japan.

Linguistic diversity is another hallmark of Buddhism, as it was generally transmitted through local languages. Hence, from its earliest period that saw Buddhism transmitted in a complex array of early Indic languages, Buddhism would then, from the Common Era onward, be channeled through Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit and then in a more standard form of Sanskrit. In Central Asia, Buddhist manuscripts would be written in Tangut, Sogdian, Tocharian, Uyghur, and a dozen of languages, as well as in some twenty scripts. Moreover, one Buddhist text may have various translations, which complexifies our study of Buddhist texts. It is incumbent on scholars to compare translations, study catalogues, identify apocrypha, and reconstruct the chronology and relationship of texts.

These issues, related to the formation, translation, and dissemination of Buddhist texts, will be the subjects that we will together investigate in this conference. The conference will take place around, but not limited to, the following topics:

  1. Oral and textual transmission of Buddhist canons;
  2. History of Buddhist Councils and their outcomes;
  3. Indian Buddhist inscriptions;
  4. Buddhist manuscripts in South and Central Asia;
  5. Relationship between the manuscript and printed Chinese Buddhist canons;
  6. Theravāda Buddhist canons in Southeast Asia;
  7. Tibetan, Mongolian and Manchurian Buddhist canons;
  8. Visual representations of Buddhist texts and their historical developments;
  9. Translation and transcultural transmission of Buddhism from South to East Asia;
  10. Apocrypha and the formation of Buddhist canons;
  11. Formation, production, and worship of Buddhist canons: rituals and cults.
  12. Formation, translation, and transmission of Buddhist canons from the perspective of intellectual history.

The committee welcomes any papers related to the theme of the formation, translation, and transmission of Buddhist texts. All associated costs, including room and board during the conference, will be covered by the host institutions. Depending on necessity and the availability of funding, some travel cost may also be covered. Please email proposals and CVs to by April 14. Scholars confident of completing the draft papers by July 21 and finalizing their papers by late November 2023 are welcome to apply.

This conference is planned as part of our annual International and Intensive Program on Buddhism (details TBA).