An ancient gate to Preah Khan temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo courtesy of Alastair Gornall.
Dr. Alastair Gornall will lead a research team in a $617,000 Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 2 study titled “Buddhist Ecological Thought in Early Modern Southeast Asia.” While it is a common perception that Buddhism is a “green” religion philosophically compatible with and conducive to modern environmentalist aims, there has been relatively little research on historical Buddhist perspectives on the natural world. This project is the first history of an extensive archive of Buddhist monastic writings about the world composed in Thailand and Burma between 1100–1750 CE. Dr. Gornall and his team will transcribe and compile editions of these works and turn them into a machine-readable corpus. They will then explore their intellectual history, examining their relationship with each other, with older Buddhist literature, and with contemporary environmentalist thought. The project is the first historical study of this material in the English language. It will preserve and make accessible to a broader audience a unique record of precolonial Southeast Asian ecological thought. Dr. Gornall hopes his research will enrich our understanding of the region’s historical attitude towards the natural world and contribute to debates about Buddhism and our climate crisis.