2020 Volume 5 Issue 2 Pages 84-131
This paper is part of a larger research project that attempts to apply historical social network analysis to the study of Chinese Buddhist history. The underlying research questions are whether social network analysis (SNA) metrics can be gainfully applied to Buddhist history, and whether network visualizations can enable us to better understand historical constellations and discover new patterns. Fundamental to this effort is a dataset of Buddhist biographies and lineage data that has been growing steadily over the past thirteen years: the Historical Social Network of Chinese Buddhism. The current dataset records interactions between more than 17,500 actors in Chinese Buddhist history. It is openly available and, in principle, all visualizations and metrics below are reproducible. This paper focuses on a characteristic formation at the beginning of the main network component, a “triangle” formed by the communities of Dao’an 道安 (314–385 CE), Huiyuan 慧遠 (334–416), and Kumārajīva (ca. 344–413). The first section interprets this joint formation as a factor in the establishment of Mahāyāna Buddhism in China. The second section explores how social network analysis can be used to identify hitherto neglected, but still important, actors in Buddhist history.