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Sylvain Lévi’s Asian Humanism: Buddhist Studies in France before World War I

  • Fhima, Catherine
  • Lardinois, Roland
Publication Date
Aug 30, 2023
DOI: 10.1163/9789004681071_011
OAI: oai:HAL:hal-04214496v1
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This article deals with Sylvain Lévi’s contribution to the study of Buddhism between the 1880s and World War I. We outline the genesis of Buddhist studies in France in the first half of the 19th century, and then locate Sylvain Lévi’s position within the configuration of studies on India and the Far East. After studying the Sanskrit literature of India and defending a thesis on Indian theatre, Sylvain Lévi extended his linguistic skills to the languages of Buddhist expansion, Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese, developing personal and scientific relationships with Japanese Buddhist circles from the late 1880s. His interest in Buddhism deepened during his first mission to India, Nepal and Japan in 1898. In particular, he developed a lasting friendship with the Japanese Sanskrit scholar TAKAKUSU Junjirō. We try to understand how Buddhism, which originated in ancient India, represented for Sylvain Lévi the way out of a Hindu world that he perceived as locked in a land and an exclusive social system, the caste. Buddhism thus appeared to Sylvain Lévi as the bearer of an oriental humanism able to enrich the western humanism that World War I had notably put in crisis.

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