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Towards a Comparative Anthropology of the Buddhist Gift (and Other Transfers)

Abstract : The aim of this essay is threefold. I would like first to propose a more refined choice of analytical vocabulary for the study of Buddhist giving and related practices, by taking into consideration recent contributions by Testart and F. Weber, who have forcefully argued that the Maussian category of ‘the gift’ is in need of conceptual clarification: we need a typology of forms of ‘transfers’, to use Testart’s term. I will argue for the analytical importance of the distinction between ‘gifts’ strictly speaking and patterns of transfers that are more akin to an exchange or transaction, such as the provision of ritual services and their remuneration. Second, I address the question of the extent to which we can we speak of ‘reciprocity’ in the case of actual Buddhist gifts (e.g. alms or donations made outside of contexts in which monks are asked for religious services). The scholarly literature displays here a remarkable lack of consensus and, to some extent, of clarity; I will offer an attempt at clarification. The third aim is to reconsider critically the common assumption that the gift is a central if not an outright essential and defining component in Buddhist laity‐sangha relations. I will draw here on data from a Tibetan society in which Buddhist gift‐giving is only of minor importance and transactions centred on ritual services are much more central to laity‐sangha relations, and contrast this with the data from mainstream Thai(‐Lao) and Burmese Theravada contexts. This may serve as a useful corrective to scholarly accounts that echo perhaps too closely emic emphases on the gift, or might have been misled by ill‐fitting theoretical models. The overall aim is to contribute, through the angle of the gift and its variants, to an emerging comparative anthropology of Buddhism.
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Submitted on : Sunday, December 31, 2017 - 7:58:56 PM
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Nicolas Sihlé. Towards a Comparative Anthropology of the Buddhist Gift (and Other Transfers). Religion Compass, Wiley, 2015, 9 (11), pp.352-385. ⟨10.1111/rec3.12185⟩. ⟨halshs-01673751⟩



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