In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Digitization of Buddhism (Digital Humanities and Buddhist Studies)

  • Introduction

Buddhism Digitization of Buddhism (Digital Humanities and Buddhist Studies)
Marcus Bingenheimer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0265


The period between 1990 and 2010 saw a momentous change in the way humans store information. The transition from a society that encodes its information mainly in analogue ways to one that relies mainly on digital media has far-reaching consequences for each of its subsystems, including religion and academia. The well-understood materiality of analogue media, which encode information in unique, persistent, easily addressable items, which are embedded in economic and legal arrangements, has been replaced by a regime where most information is encoded digitally. Computationally mediated, digital information can be quickly produced, changed, multiplied, and transmitted, but is always reliant on a many-layered infrastructure of network, hardware, and software standards. How is Buddhist heritage digitized and how does that impact Buddhist studies? Buddhists, from the very beginning of their tradition, have often been “early adopters” and eager to use whatever new media were available to store, manage, and transmit their cultural heritage. With the advent of writing in India, Buddhism is mentioned in the earliest examples of Indian epigraphy (the Aśokan edicts, 3rd century BCE), and the oldest surviving Indian manuscripts (c. 1st century CE) are of Buddhist texts. In China, Buddhism became the first religion to make use of printing to copy their sacred scriptures. Famously, the earliest dated printed book (868 CE) is a Chinese version of the Diamond Sutra. In Buddhist studies, like in other fields of academic inquiry, researchers had to learn within a generation to digitally access and manage primary sources (see Digitization of Primary Sources) and research tools (see Digitization of Research Tools). Cyberspace has become a new frontier for research into contemporary Buddhism (see Buddhism in Cyberspace). Similar to other fields in the Humanities, the application of research methods specific to digital data (see Application of Computational Methods in Buddhist Studies), however, is still in its infancy. This article is neither a link list, nor a bibliography in the traditional sense, but an attempt to survey the landscape of initiatives and approaches toward the use of computational methods in Buddhist studies. To prevent link rot, I cite URLs only where projects are not easily findable via a simple online search for their name. Most of the resources in this article are the product of teamwork; very few are created by a single person alone. Because of this, I generally forgo mentioning individuals, focusing instead on the institutions that maintain a resource. Acronyms are only given where they are widely used.

Digitization of Primary Sources

The primary sources for research in the Humanities are texts. Digitization in the Humanities means first and foremost to model analogue representations of text in digital form. Beyond “text” in the narrow sense, this ideally includes the textures of music, art, ritual practice, architecture, and other aspects of human creativity. One problem in reporting on digital scholarship is the fluid nature of digital information. Online resources are ephemeral and URLs are not reliable over time. Although an ecosystem of standard frameworks (e.g., open archival information system, or OAIS), stable identifiers (e.g., digital object identifier, or DOI; Purl), and trusted digital repositories (e.g., Zenodo, Dryad) for data has evolved, few of the major initiatives in Buddhist studies partake in it so far.

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