What can we learn from the anthropological study of projects that are never realized, or of dreams that are never fulfilled? In her new book, Battling the Buddha of Love: A Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never Built
(Cornell University Press, 2018), Dr. Jessica Marie Falcone
takes her readers on a transnational journey to explore the history of a giant Maitreya Buddha statue that the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) planned to build in Kushinagar, India. As the title of the book suggests, that statue was never built, as the project became mired in controversy and local opposition. This book traces both the FPMT’s efforts to rally their transnational network of Buddhist students and practitioners around the statue project and the determined resistance efforts of local Indian farmers who were determined not to give up their land without a fight. Along the way, Dr. Falcone offers compelling insights into the concepts of temporality and futurity, grassroots activism in the face of a transnational organization, and the ethics of engaged anthropological practice.
Dannah Dennis is an anthropologist currently working as a Teaching Fellow at New York University Shanghai. You can find her on Twitter @dannahdennis.