Soft Decoloniality and Decolonising the Displays at Chiddingstone Castle, Kent
In the UK many popular misconceptions concerning Buddhist thought, practice, and material culture endure based on the colonial-era understanding of ‘Buddhism’ originating from the long 19th century. While academic Buddhist Studies has taken a more critical stance since the 1960s, a more nuanced understanding has not, by and large, percolated out of academia and dislodged earlier more simplistic ideas. Decolonising exercises such as those undertaken by national museums in the UK go some way to addressing this by presenting Buddhist cultures as dynamic and varied, and contextualising earlier colonial images of Buddhism. This constitutes a form of ‘soft decoloniality’ that addresses global cognitive justice in contrast to the ‘hard decoloniality’ of activist movements addressing global social justice. This article unpacks these ideas and discusses them in the context of an exercise to decolonise the displays in the Buddhist collection at Chiddingstone Castle, Kent: a small, independent museum based on the collections of the late Denys Eyre Bower (1905-1977), whose understanding of Buddhism was influenced by his close friend, Christmas Humphreys.