Field Impressions
Axel Schneider (China)

Buddhism, academia and modernizing society in Chengdu, China

Axel Schneider

Sichuan currently is one of the most interesting places for studying the revival of Buddhism in mainland China. Since centuries it has been the zone of encounter between Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism. In contemporary China, Tibetan Buddhism, less interrupted by the devastations of the Cultural Revolution than Chinese Buddhism, is among Han Chinese one of the most vibrant Buddhist denominations. Especially intriguing is the spread of Buddhism among Chinese intellectual and economic elites. This summer, I spend three months at Sichuan University giving lectures on modern Chinese historical thought and historiography, and doing first exploratory research on the Buddhist lay communities and the sangha in monasteries in and around Chengdu. Most interesting and astonishing was how deeply Buddhism has penetrated by now the university community. Many of recent "converts" to Buddhism in monasteries come from an academic background such as the nun who used to be a professor of art history cum mother and wife until a few years ago and then followed her inner voice abandoning career and family for a monastic life; or the graduate from university who started a successful career as business man, just to realize a few years later that this isn't satisfactory at all thus becoming a monk; or the law professor from a family with a long and lively Buddhist tradition, who, Buddhist by birth so to say, combines his very active lay Buddhist life with a university career. First interviews with "academic" Buddhists of these varying backgrounds have been conducted and form the first step towards following phases of in-depth interviews the coming years.

Prof. Dr. Axel Schneider

Director, Centre for Modern East Asian Studies (CeMEAS)

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Centre for Modern East Asian Studies, Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

+49 (0)551 39 27033

+49 (0)551 39 27048



Axel Schneider is Director of Centre for Modern East Asian Studies (CeMEAS) at the University of Göttingen. His research and publications have focused on the history of historical thinking and writing in 19th and 20th century China investigating how the traditionally central field of historiography has developed and changed under the impact of the historical experience of imperialism and in exchange with Western philosophical and historiographical influences. His research has analyzed how aspects of modern nation-building, identity politics and academic history have interacted with philosophical and religious concerns. Publishing in English and Chinese and editor of several series shaping the field of research in comparative historiography and historical writing, his most recent work continues and expands this line of inquiry into the field of modern Chinese critiques of Western modernity. Currently he is writing a monograph on Chinese critiques of progressivism and modern concepts of time motivated by ethical and religious considerations.


T: +49 551 39 21286
F: +49 551 39 21284


Georg-Universität-Universität Göttingen
Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14
37073 Göttingen