Suffering Together

A conversation about Buddhism and the power of stories in anxious times


Fields of Knowledge
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions



Avi Alpert

Opens to public




On the web

Register via Zoom

Slought is pleased to announce Suffering Together, a conversation about Buddhism and the power of stories in anxious times, on Monday, April 26, 2021. The event will feature presentations by and conversation with scholars Justin McDaniel, Hsiao-wen Cheng, and Avram Alpert, moderated by Jolyon Thomas. The event is also a celebration of books recently published by the panelists. This program is free and open to the public, and will be held from 1-2:15pm EST online (register via Zoom).

We live in anxious times. From the hopefully passing pandemic to the lingering devastations of inequality that it exacerbated, there is much work to be done on both ourselves and our societies. It is sometimes said that Buddhism has a limited role here—that it is simply a personal philosophy dedicated to easing an individual's burden. But throughout its history, Buddhism has not just been a calming philosophy; it is also a way of life deeply embedded into politics, rituals, and everyday practices. Indeed, the stories and rituals of Buddhist life are often more widespread and better-known than any philosophical treatise or meditation technique. These stories range from the bawdry to the philosophical. But they all share a sense that human beings are deeply connected across both time and space, and that part of suffering comes from failing to understand these connections. Stories let us see aspects of our interdependence, how we are all suffering together, and what we can do about it. In this event, we will consider how Buddhist stories may help people—regardless of their background—to understand and transform the world and their place in it.

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Justin McDaniel is professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand.

Hsiao-wen Cheng is associate professor of East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Divine, Demonic, and Disordered: Women without Men in Song Dynasty China.

Avram Alpert teaches writing at Princeton University. His most recent book is A Partial Enlightenment: What Modern Literature and Buddhism Can Teach Us about Living Well without Perfection.

Jolyon Baraka Thomas is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book is Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan.

"Many monks have not known the four noble truths. But everyone, monk and nun, layman and laywoman, knows stories about the Buddha, about the bodhisattvas, about famous monks and nuns...

Each retelling of a story is slightly different from the one before, yet always able to be told again, its plot providing a coherence to the myriad constituents of experience, from which we may derive both instruction and delight."

-- Donald Lopez, The Story of Buddhism, 2001