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The Cult of Nothingness

The Philosophers and the Buddha

By Roger-Pol Droit

Translated by David Streight and Pamela Vohnson

The Cult of Nothingness

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

Not for Sale in South Asia

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5449-5
    Published: May 2003

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The common Western understanding of Buddhism today envisions this major world religion as one of compassion and tolerance. But as Roger-Pol Droit reveals, this view bears little resemblance to one broadly held in the nineteenth-century European philosophical imagination that saw Buddhism as a religion of annihilation calling for the destruction of the self.

Originally published in France in 1997, this book traces the history of the Western discovery of Buddhism. Droit shows that such major philosophers as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Hegel, Cousin, and Renan imagined Buddhism as a religion that was, as Nietzsche put it, a "negation of the world." In fact, says Droit, such portrayals were more a reflection of what was happening in Europe at the time--when the collapse of traditional European hierarchies and values, the specter of atheism, and the rise of racism and social revolts were shaking European societies--than an accurate description of Buddhist thought. Droit also reflects on how this history continues to echo in contemporary Western understandings of Buddhism. The book includes a comprehensive bibliography of books on Buddhism published in the West between 1638 and 1890.

About the Author

Roger-Pol Droit is a researcher in philosophy at the Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and a columnist for Le Monde. His most recent book is 101 Expériences de philosophie quotidienne.
For more information about Roger-Pol Droit, visit the Author Page.


"Erudite and eminently readable."--Journal of Religion

"A rich and theoretically sophisticated overview of the reception of Buddhism in Europe. . . . A masterful and extremely entertaining tour of the opinions of early Buddhologists and Eastward-looking philosophers. . . . [A] virtuoso presentation of European intellectual history. . . . A highly readable and deeply researched book, one that intellectual historians and philosophers interested in the volatile mix of Buddhology and European philosophy in the nineteenth century should not ignore."--Philosophy East & West

"[A] thoroughly researched and carefully argued book. . . . This book is useful for historians of modern Europe and of Buddhism's reception in the West; for philosophers, it is an illuminating reminder of how knowledge of 'the other' is largely shaped by people's own projections. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

"[The Cult of Nothingness: The Philosophers and the Buddha] is indispensable to anyone studying the history of the Western reception of Buddhism."--H-Buddhism

"Droit's passionate, knowledgeable, scintillating treatise conjures up anew the specter of a nihilistic Buddhism, which Christian Europe created to haunt itself. This is a deeply humane work of great philosophical and historical sophistication which deserves to be widely read."--Steven Collins, University of Chicago

"Roger-Pol Droit's book presents a fascinating page in the cultural history of the encounter between the West and non-Western cultures."--Bernard Faure, Stanford University