2002 Indic Colloquium Participant Detail

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Christian Wedemeyer

Contact Information




University Instructor of South Asian Studies Department of Asian Studies University of Copenhagen Leifsgade 33, 5. DK-2300 Copenhagen S DENMARK



(45) 35 32 88 38



(45) 35 32 88 35


Phone (other)




wedemeyer@hum.ku.dk ckw1@columbia.edu


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Background Information

Christian K. Wedemeyer began his studies at Wesleyan University (Middletown, Conn., USA) where in 1991 he received the B.A. with High Honors, having completed a double major in Philosophy and Religion. He continued his education at Columbia University (New York, NY, USA), where he received the M.A. (1994) and M.Phil. (1995) degrees in Religion and Buddhist Studies. In 1999, he was granted the Ph.D. with Distinction for his dissertation "Vajrayana and its Doubles: A critical historiography, exposition, and translation of the Tantric works of Aryadeva." Over the last ten years, he has taught a variety of courses in Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan language and culture, world religions, and the history of Western philosophy at places such as Wesleyan, Columbia, and Antioch Universities and at Barnard College. He was most recently a Post-doctoral Research Scholar in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at New College of the University of South Florida (Sarasota, FL, USA). He joined the faculty at the University of Copenhagen in August of 2000.


Research Interests: Dr. Wedemeyer's chief research interest is in the history and literature of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist esotericism ("Tantrism"). He has been examining the history and nature of the representations of these traditions in modern scholarship, as well as surveying the data relevant to constructing their (actual) history and understanding the concerns of their extensive literature. He has devoted especial attention to the so-called Arya Tradition, a school whose influential writings on yogic practice and textual interpretation are ascribed to the most eminent luminaries of Universal Vehicle Buddhism, including Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, and Candrakirti.


Historiography of 'Them' and Historiography of 'Us': India, Narrative Archetypes, and the Very Idea of a 'Global Renaissance'

Recent work on history and historical method has drawn attention to the fictive, contingent nature of the rhetoric which structures and informs historical works. That is to say, scholars have begun to take more seriously the fundamental fact that narrative forms—which are the indispensable cognitive instruments of historians—are nowhere to be found in the "facts" they serve to organize. Rather, they are the result of an irreducibly imaginative process by which the historian constructs them as a "story." The narratives intrinsic to all histories are not derived from the data, rather they are drawn from a fund of story forms current within the culture in which the historian works. Histories (with apologies to St. Luke) are "new wine in old bottles."

With this in mind, the historical understanding may be described as a dialectical interplay between a range of "facts" in need of interpretation and a range of possible interpretations looking for facts. The latter side of the dialectic demands our attention, for the range of interpretative models available in part predetermines the interpretations "found." One sees what one knows—what one has been accustomed to see.

It is illuminating to examine the historiography of India in this light—to tease out the stock of tropes and narrative metaphors which have informed the European historical imagination as it sought to represent (and "signify") Indian history. It is evident that modern histories of India have been cast according to a rather limited repertoire of available stories. Again and again, one finds structuring myths such as that of the organic life-cycle, and particular European "historical metaphors" such those of the Reformation and the Decline-and-Fall.

Through this type of analysis, one is able to problematize—to "de-naturalize"—the narratives of Orientalist history. This can have salutary effects. We should not, however, succumb to the pleasant illusion that our counter-narratives are somehow more "true" than those we have critiqued. All are equally fictive; however, (as Hayden White has indicated) different narrative forms correspond to different modes of ideological implication. The types of stories we tell about the past and the present have very concrete ideological effects. Histories not only describe, they prescribe. Indeed, it is largely concern over this prescriptive function that is at the base of much of the "history wars" we have seen in recent decades.

What is true of the historiography of India, however, is no less true with regard to the historiography of "our" encounter with India. How we imagine the narrative of that encounter has wide ramifications, not only in terms of how we understand that relationship to have developed to date, but how we enact that encounter in the present. Interestingly for our project here, one of the more prominent models (one might say "myths") used to structure an understanding of the encounter of India and the West is that of the Renaissance. The concept of the Renaissance was created in the early nineteenth century and—while debate still raged concerning its applicability to its original fifteenth/sixteenth century referent—was quickly taken over to describe the encounter of India and the West. Though mostly forgotten today, it was a commonplace in the nineteenth century that Europe was then in the midst of a second Renaissance, an Indic Renaissance.

As we embark on a project of envisioning and enacting a Global Renaissance, we would do well, I think, to consider the continuities and discontinuities between what we do today (and how we describe what we are doing) and the Indic Renaissance of the nineteenth century. The fact that this precise rhetoric has been used before—not just once or twice, but widely—gives us a tremendous opportunity to consider the relationship between discourse and praxis (including, or especially, our own). (Why a "Global Renaissance?" What does it mean for us, and for the consumers of this narrative, that we describe what we are doing in these terms? Are there other narratives we might choose?) It may be instructive, as we set out on a similar(ly described) path, to review what has come before, to try to situate ourselves within the larger history of this discourse, and to consider its meaning, its strengths and any weaknesses.