Charles Hallisey’s 1995 essay was published just one year after William Pruitt’s Étude linguistique de nissaya birmans, still the most detailed monograph to date on Pali-vernacular bilingual texts in the Theravada world. The publication of these works marked the beginning of an increasing integration of vernacular and bilingual Pali-vernacular materials into the academic study of Theravada literature, a field dominated by Pali sources since the early twentieth century. This talk examines three new currents in the study of vernacular and Pali-vernacular Theravada literature that have emerged since Pruitt’s and Hallisey’s seminal publications in the mid-1990s. These trends echo both the former’s model of philological rigor as well as the latter’s call to uncover “the production of meaning in local contexts.”
The first trend to emerge in the past quarter-century of Theravada studies is treating such non-Pali texts as seriously as Pali ones, particularly by applying methods of textual criticism. Recent scholarship along these lines has begun to make the layers, diversity, and intertextuality of Theravada literary production more legible. Second, a movement has begun towards understanding Theravada literature as a fundamentally multilingual phenomenon, centered on local practices of translation, what Hallisey calls “the specifics of translation as a cultural practice.” Finally, researchers are deepening the study of Theravada literature through inquiries into local intellectual histories in South and Southeast Asia. These emerging movements in Theravada studies open up new grounds for conversation with our counterparts in the study of the broader Buddhist world.