Historians Urs App and Martino Dibeltulo Concu have argued that the European “discovery” of Buddhism as a “religion” can be dated to the 16th century rather than the 19th, and that the presentation of the Buddha as a philosopher by the likes of Eugène Burnouf is a secularized holdover from the Jesuit accounts of the 16th century. These claims have a tenuous basis, and Burnouf’s portrayal of the Buddha as a philosopher was a radical break from earlier Jesuit accounts. Unlike the Asian Buddhists who preceded him, Burnouf separated the facts from beliefs and concluded the Buddha was a human philosopher. The essay explores the 16th-century Jesuit encounter with Buddhists in Japan and the accounts that were generated therefrom, with particular attention to the notion that the Buddha taught both an inner materialist doctrine and an outer moral one; it looks to the dissemination and development of these ideas in the 17th and 18th centuries, with a focus on the “African hypothesis” as it is found in various European savants; it turns to the 19th-century “discovery” of Buddhism by the likes of Ozeray, Abel-Rémusat, Hodgson, and Burnouf. it then draws out the implications of the defense of Masuzawa and Droit’s position given in this article for the field of Buddhist studies, particularly with regard to methodological issues.
William J. Wright
When Martin Luther began his academic studies at Erfurt, Renaissance humanism and skepticism had become well entrenched in the German academic world. He also found them at Wittenberg. Starting with Petrarch, humanists appeared in Italy who acquired the skills necessary to find solutions to their needs in the content of ancient pagan classics and Christian writings. Two major groups of humanists existed after the mid-15th century with distinct solutions for the needs they felt: rhetorical humanists epitomized by Valla and Neoplatonic humanists led by Ficino and Pico. Rhetorical humanism appealed to the heart and exempted the truth of Christian teachings from skepticism. Neoplatonic humanism sought to establish absolute truth by synthesizing the wisdom of all religions and philosophies. It is well-known today that ultramontane Renaissance humanism was imported from Italy by large numbers of students from the north who studied there. German and other northern humanists mostly followed either in the path laid by Valla or that of Ficino and Pico. Luther was a beneficiary of the Christian humanism and biblicism of the rhetorical path, which also led to the development of the loci method of learning and the educational work of Melanchthon. The Neoplatonic path led to further development of logical solutions based on both Plato and Aristotle. This path developed remarkable syntheses of Christianity with ancient and medieval philosophies and religions, mostly meant to improve Christian life. Though familiar with the Neoplatonic path, Luther did not accept its basic views.