Student Scholar Symposium Abstracts and Posters

Document Type


Publication Date


Faculty Advisor(s)

Myron Yeager


Samuel Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia is ironically most often classified as an “oriental philosophic tale,” but is rarely analyzed from the point of view of oriental philosophy. Although Buddhism’s ambiguities, inwardness, and nothingness, provoke anxiety in Western critique, Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia does something unique from eighteenth-century British thought in that it disavows this Buddaphobia by actively employing a similar line of thought. Through the lens of a Buddhist framework many of the text’s renownedly gloomy implications, in regard to its circular structure and inconclusiveness, are freed from the great sludge of nihilism that has built up on its didactic purpose; consequently, a Buddhist perspective begins to reveal how contrary to enlightenment ideals, a lack of absolute truth allows for greater meaning. Timothy Morton's essay "Buddaphobia" explores The Middle Way Buddhist philosophy by Nāgārjuna and its concept of "meontic nothingness" which I will apply to Rasselas for the purposes of bridging its philosophical gaps between Western and Eastern philosophy as well as understanding the circular tendencies of the text. Both Buddhism and "Rasselas" share the question of desire and the suffering that results from its wheel of temporary pleasures. I will be investigating the instances in which the philosophy Johnson has imbued the text with and Buddhism can inform each other on the matter and in which areas they conflict. By applying an eastern stream of thought to Rasselas I do not mean to propose Buddhism as the solution to happiness. However, I do mean to inspect how a Western conception of happiness is constructed and consequently how an Eastern perspective of it might add to its reality.


Presented at the Fall 2019 Student Scholar Symposium at Chapman University.