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VU Buddhist studies professor Scherer writes Italian bestseller

11 April 2023
All of a sudden professor Bee Scherer found the 2nd edition of their book Una storia del Buddhismo in the mail. "I never expected it to be a bestseller."

In the beginning of the year, an unexpected parcel arrived at the home of professor Bee Scherer, who joined VU FRT in December 2020 to take over the rectorship of the Buddhist seminary. On the mat was the second imprint of the book Una storia del Buddhismo (A History of Buddhism) published by the official publishing house of the Italian Buddhist Union, UBILiber. 

The first edition of this almost 300-page long introduction to Buddhist thought and practises through the ages had only gone for sale six weeks ago. Authored by the non-binary-trans scholar and Buddhist teacher Scherer (who uses they/their pronouns), the book had sold out completely before Christmas and had been hastily reprinted. "I was very surprised", admits Scherer. "Of course, I knew Feltrinelli (one of the largest Italian bookstore chains) had stocked it, but I never expected it to become a bestseller." 

Specific Buddhist terminology

Fluent also in Italian, Scherer had written the book in English based on their 20 years of experience in teaching Buddhism in Higher Education in the U.K. Canada, India, Nepal, Australia and, more recently, the Netherlands. For this new book, Scherer revised an earlier German version authored in 2005 and added substantial new chapters on, among other areas, East Asian and contemporary Buddhist traditions. 

Scherer: "The journey of the Italian version was far more complicated than I had expected. I delivered the manuscript in 2021, but the professional translator struggled with the specific Buddhist terminology. This resulted in detailed and long discussions between the copy editor, the publisher and myself about the most appropriate Italian translations to use, mostly because for many areas of Buddhist Studies a precise terminology is still lacking in Italian. A real piece of pioneer work indeed. How to translate e.g., "craving (which differs from "desire") or "re-becoming" (as different to "reincarnate")? How to avoid the association of the term "emptiness" with "void(ness)" etc." 

Filling a deep gap

Scherer recalls long nights in 2022 of discussions with the Italian team to find the best solutions. When the book finally hit the shelves late November 2022, it immediately filled a deep gap for a detailed, academic yet readable introduction to Buddhism in Italian. 

In February, while in Japan to receive a research award from the Numata Foundation for their research into Queer Theory and Buddhism (picture), Scherer then also appeared on Italian national radio to discuss the success of their new book and questions such as "is Buddhism actually a religion?" and "how does Jesus compare to the Buddha?". 

"It was rather taxing to switch from English and Japanese to Italian," Scherer reflects, "but also a lot of fun! And I was able to mention the main message I always want to pass on, taken from Buddhism: Remember to be kind, always."