International Buddhism conference in honour of Leiden Sinologist Erik Zürcher
Erik Zürcher (1928–2008) is still considered an authoritative source in research on Chinese Buddhism. A new collection of his publications serves as an occasion for an international conference on Buddhism in Leiden. Princess Beatrix, who knew him well, will be in attendance at the opening.
No one doing research on Buddhism in China can do without the authoritative study by Leiden sinologist Erik Zürcher, entitled The Buddhist Conquest of China. This 1959 dissertation is still considered to be the most valuable introduction to the early period of Buddhism in China. Zürcher became a professor in Leiden and published dozens of articles and book reviews in his field. But those publications never took the form of a book.
Making publications accessible to a wide audience
Leiden professor Jonathan Silk, the only professor of Buddhist Studies in the Netherlands, took the initiative to assemble 22 of Zürcher’s articles and book reviews into a collection, called Buddhism in China: Collected Papers of Erik Zürcher. Says Silk: 'While all the contributions were previously published, some of them appeared in obscure sources, or were only in Dutch, French or Japanese; now they are all presented in English. The fruits of Zürcher's mature scholarship on Chinese Buddhism are now available for a new generation of students and researchers.' Silk also wrote the introduction to the book, as well as a biographical sketch and a bibliography.
International conference in Leiden
The collection serves as an occasion for the three-day conference in Leiden on Chinese Buddhism and the scholarship of Erik Zürcher.’ Renowned researchers from Oxford, London, Kyoto and Taiwan, among other places, will reflect upon Zürcher’s work and upon current research on Chinese Buddhism. Silk: ‘Many of Zürcher’s interpretations are still rock-solid, but some standpoints are being contested or further developed. For example, Zürcher only studied the Chinese translations of Indian Buddhist writings. I and other conference participants principally have expertise in the original Indian writings, which enables us to shed light on them from two different angles.’
Princess Beatrix and the Zürcher family in attendance
The opening of the conference will be attended by Princess Beatrix. She knew Zürcher well, and he served as her guide during a visit to China in 1999. Zürcher’s widow, Ms. H. D. Zürcher-Bulten, will be the first to receive a copy of the new book. Erik-Jan Zürcher, the couple’s son and professor of Turkish language and culture in Leiden, will also be in attendance. He will give a short speech.
American Jonathan Silk read The Buddhist Conquest of China when he was still a student in Michigan. ‘Zürcher still enjoys worldwide fame in his field.He is still considered the guy for the history of Chinese Buddhism.’ Silk met Zürcher only one time, in 2007, when he was just starting out as a professor in Leiden. Why is Zürcher’s dissertation still read so much? ‘The book is takes a very broad approach, but it is structured in a very synthetic way. As a Sinologist, not only was Zürcher interested in Buddhism, he also did research on the introduction of Christianity into China, for example, and why that religion was less successful. In spite of its broad scope, it is a very careful, scholarly study, and that is also true of his other publications.'