Strange Tales of an Oriental Idol

Strange Tales of an Oriental Idol : An Anthology of Early European Portrayals of the Buddha

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We tend to think that the Buddha has always been seen as the compassionate sage admired around the world today, but until the nineteenth century, Europeans often regarded him as a nefarious figure, an idol worshipped by the pagans of the Orient. Donald S. Lopez Jr. offers here a rich sourcebook of European fantasies about the Buddha drawn from the works of dozens of authors over fifteen hundred years, including Clement of Alexandria, Marco Polo, St. Francis Xavier, Voltaire, and Sir William Jones. Featuring writings by soldiers, adventurers, merchants, missionaries, theologians, and colonial officers, this volume contains a wide range of portraits of the Buddha. The descriptions are rarely flattering, as all manner of reports some accurate, some inaccurate, and some garbled came to circulate among European savants and eccentrics, many of whom were famous in their day but are long forgotten in ours. Taken together, these accounts present a fascinating picture, not only of the Buddha as he was understood and misunderstood for centuries, but also of his portrayers.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 288 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 15.24mm | 362.87g
  • University of Chicago Press
  • United States
  • English
  • 022639123X
  • 9780226391236
  • 560,502

Review quote

"Only a true master of the field could have prepared this collection, which is at once so useful and so fascinating. Anyone with even the slightest interest in the history of religion, the rise of world religions, cultural relativism in Europe, or globalization, not to mention Buddhism, is going to want to open this chest of treasures. When they do, they will be deeply grateful for the guidance provided to the reader, which makes these sometimes curious stories accessible to the widest possible audience."--Lynn Hunt, University of California, Los Angeles "Rather than posit a true Asian vs. false Western dichotomy, Lopez asks, 'whether the Buddha, then and now, here and there, is the product of a more complex and interesting process of influence.' The author allows many texts to nestle and jostle against each other, refusing to rate them. This approach fits into Lopez' career, spent producing learned works demystifying Buddhist tropes. While the collection of polyglot voices may daunt, he offers cogent introductions for each diverse inclusion."--Spectrum Culture "Strange Tales of an Oriental Idol presents English translations of a wide variety of early writings produced by travelers, Christian missionaries, soldiers, civil servants, and armchair and professional scholars. These sources are very important indeed, and the work that Lopez has done to assemble them is truly impressive. I can think of nothing that rivals this book." --Jacob Kinnard, Iliff School of Theology "This is an amazing repository of research on Western writings on Buddhism from the earliest times to the mid-nineteenth century. Beautifully written, Strange Tales of an Oriental Idol will be a sourcebook for further research among scholars of Buddhism and of East-West interaction, as well as for those interested in Western intellectual history more generally."--Judith Snodgrass, Western Sydney University
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About Donald S. Lopez Jr

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. His many books include the companion volume to this title, From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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