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    "Wheels Turning: Engaged Buddhism, Anthropological Solidarity, and a Return to the 1990s" - Michael Edwards (USyd)

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    This is part of the 2024 Religion & Society Online Seminar Series that takes place on the third Wednesday of the month at 12pm (Sydney time). It is convened by Cristina Rocha & Kathleen Openshaw (Western Sydney University) 


    In the histories of anthropology that we tend to tell, certain decades loom large: the 1920s, for example, or the 1980s. In this paper, I experiment with a critical and comparative reappraisal of a decade closer to our present: the 1990s. In the wake of the Cold War, with the end of the millennium looming, and with the implications of the World Wide Web rushing into view, the 1990s were the temporal ground for an anthropology—of globalisation, technology, and much else besides—that both responded to, and was facilitated by, an apparent liberal hegemony that proved to be short lived. Today, the 1990s are often treated with nostalgia, derision, or some combination of both. But with the benefit of some three decades’ distance, and with a view to the discipline’s current condition, I join others in beginning to historicise 1990s anthropology, tracking its turns amid the political conditions and cultural moods of that moment. I do so here by approaching this disciplinary history alongside the history of an adjacent (and at times overlapping) intellectual and social formation, that of engaged Buddhism. Considering how anthropologists and engaged Buddhists grappled, through the 1990s, with a set of related questions—about the global and the local, participation and observation, suffering and freedom—reveals ethical ambitions and political shortcomings that continue to inflect debates in both fields, not least about the promises and practices of solidarity. 


    Michael joined the University of Sydney as a Lecturer in Anthropology in 2024. An anthropologist of religious life, media ecology, and political change, he was previously a postdoctoral research fellow in South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. His first book project, Real Change: Myanmar and the Dissonance of Salvation, has been selected for the Atelier series at the University of California Press.

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