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Open Philology: The Composition of Buddhist Scriptures

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - OpenPhilology (Open Philology: The Composition of Buddhist Scriptures)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2020-12-31

Buddhist sūtras are fundamental sources for understanding the beliefs that once dominated, and largely continue to dominate, Asian societies. But classical philological approaches to these texts, assuming an Ur-text and linear development, misrepresent their nature and obscure their history. Like oral literature the sūtras are authorless and textually fluid, their content formulaic and modular, and the situation complicated by their huge volume and the linguistic diversity of their extant versions. Their fluidity and the absence of an Ur-text makes traditional stemmatic editing inappropriate. Other options are also unacceptable: eclectic editions conflate distinct sources, creating texts which never existed historically, while exclusive focus on a single version ignores the tradition’s true richness.
Utilizing the tools of Digital Humanities, Open Philology offers a revolution in approaching the composition of these scriptures, and other literatures with common features, such as the Homeric corpus or Rabbinic literature. Given the vastness of the Buddhist canons, we focus on a traditional subset of texts, and produce electronic editions which preserve their diachronic and synchronic fluidity, revealing the intertextuality inherent in their formulaic composition. Our editing environments, in development, allow one to easily view the diversity of sources, in different versions of ‘the same text’ and in parallels in other texts, and permit one to view data at any level of granularity, according to one’s interests.
The project is producing corpora of sūtras mutually aligned in their Chinese, Tibetan and, when available, Sanskrit versions, a map of formulaic content, annotated text editions and translations, a general study of the corpus, and a series of scholarly publications on methodological and content-oriented issues. The tools and results we produce bring our historical understanding of Buddhism, the most formative influence on Asian cultures, to a new level.
Half-way through the 5 years of our work, the Open Philology project, based at Leiden University in the Netherlands, has succeeded in producing several important technical tools, alongside its results (albeit so far largely unpublished) in terms of the study of texts. Regarding the former, most notably we have developed a database, formatted such that its data can be updated and used/shared freely even after the project ends. Secondly, we have developed an alignment input tool to coordinate Chinese and Tibetan texts, an invaluable tool to create training data toward a full bilingual alignment, one of the chief goals of the project. These results have been made possible by the development of a novel algorithm for the comparison of our textual corpus, as well as any other datasets in any human languages. The modular design allows for later additions to the environment after the project ends, using any programming languages.
Further, team members continue to investigate individual scriptures, edit and translate the texts from Tibetan and Chinese, and where available Sanskrit, and study the historical circumstances of the compilation and translation of the texts in the medieval period.
Half-way through the 5 years of our work, the Open Philology project, based at Leiden University in the Netherlands, has succeeded in producing several important technical tools, alongside its results (albeit so far largely unpublished) in terms of the study of texts. Regarding the former, most notably we have developed a database, formatted such that its data can be updated and used/shared freely even after the project ends. Secondly, we have developed an alignment input tool to coordinate Chinese and Tibetan texts, an invaluable tool to create training data toward a full bilingual alignment, one of the chief goals of the project. These results have been made possible by the development of a novel algorithm for the comparison of our textual corpus, as well as any other datasets in any human languages. The modular design allows for later additions to the environment after the project ends, using any programming languages.
Further, team members continue to investigate individual scriptures, edit and translate the texts from Tibetan and Chinese, and where available Sanskrit, and study the historical circumstances of the compilation and translation of the texts in the medieval period.
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