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Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids

Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids
Born (1857-09-27)27 September 1857
Wadhurst, England
Died 26 June 1942(1942-06-26)
Chipstead, England
Nationality British
Fields Buddhist Studies
Institutions School of Oriental and African Studies, Manchester University
Alma mater University College London

Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids (1857–1942) was an English Pāli language scholar and translator, and from 1923-1942 president of the Pali Text Society which was founded by her husband T. W. Rhys Davids whom she married in 1894.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Marriage and career 2
  • Influence of Spiritualism 3
  • Family 4
  • Works and translations 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life and education

Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids was born on 27 September 1857 in Wadhurst, East Sussex, England to John Foley and Caroline Elizabeth Foley (maiden name Caroline Elizabeth Windham). Caroline was born into a family with a long ecclesiastic history—her father, John Foley, served as the vicar of Wadhurst from 1847–88; her grandfather and great grandfather had served as rector of Holt, Worcestershire and vicar of Mordiford, Herefordshire, respectively. Two years before her birth, five of her siblings died within one month in December 1855/January 1856 from diphtheria and are commemorated in the church of St Peter and St Paul, Wadhurst.[1][2] One surviving brother, John Windham Foley (1848–1926), became a missionary in India and another, Charles Windham Foley (1856–1933), played in three FA Cup Finals for Old Etonians, being on the winning side in 1852; he later had a career as a solicitor.[3]

She studied at University College, London studying mainly economics, philosophy, and psychology. While studying there, she also began studying Sanskrit under Reinhold Rost. As a student, she was already a prolific writer and a vocal campaigner in the movements for poverty relief, children's rights, and women's suffrage. She completed her BA in 1886 and her MA in 1889.

Marriage and career

A mutual friend introduced Caroline and her future husband T. W. Rhys Davids, knowing that they both shared an interest in Indic studies, and they married soon afterwards. T. W. Rhys Davids encouraged Caroline to pursue Buddhist studies and do research about Buddhist psychology and the place of women in Buddhism. Thus, among her first works were a translation of the Dhamma Sangani, a text from the Theravāda Abhidhamma Piṭaka, which she published under the title A Buddhist manual of psychological ethics: Being a translation, now made for the first time, from the original Pali, of the first book in the Abhidhamma Piṭaka, entitled: Dhamma-sangaṇi (Compendium of States or Phenomena) (1900); a second early translation was that of the Therīgāthā, a canonical work of verses traditionally ascribed to early Buddhist nuns (under the title Psalms of the Sisters [1909]).

She obtained the position of Lecturer in Indian Philosophy at Manchester University in 1910 and held that position until 1913. Between 1918 and 1933 she worked as Lecturer in the History of Buddhism at the School of Oriental Studies (later renamed the School of Oriental and African Studies). While teaching, she simultaneously acted as the Honorary Secretary of the Pali Text Society which had been started by her husband to transcribe and translate Pāli Buddhist texts. She held that position from 1907 until her husband's death in 1922; the following year, she took his place as President of the Society.

Her translations of Pāli texts were at times idiosyncratic but her contribution was considerable. She was one of the first scholars to attempt translations of Abhidhamma texts, known for their complexity and difficult use of technical language. She also translated large portions of the Sutta Piṭaka, or edited and supervised the translations of other PTS scholars. Beyond this, she also wrote numerous articles and popular books on Buddhism; it is probably in these manuals and journal articles where her controversial volte-face towards several key points of Theravāda doctrine can first be seen. Although earlier in her career she accepted more mainstream beliefs about Buddhist teachings, later in life she rejected the concept of anatta as an "original" Buddhist teaching. She appears to have influenced several of her students in this direction, including A. K. Coomaraswamy, F. L. Woodward, and I. B. Horner.

Influence of Spiritualism

Unlike her husband, C.A.F. Rhys Davids became strongly influenced by University College London which most influenced her later reinterpretation of Buddhism. She seems to have had little actual interaction with Theosophical groups until very late in her career, and can even be seen to criticize Theosophical belief in some works. She became particularly involved in various forms of psychic communication with the dead, first attempting to reach her dead son through seances and then through automatic writing. She later claimed to have developed clairaudience, as well as the ability to pass into the next world when dreaming. She kept extensive notebooks of automatic writing, along with notes on the afterlife and diaries detailing her experiences, which are held by the University of London.[4]


Arthur Rhys Davids. He died in action on 23 October 1917.

Caroline and Thomas had three children, Vivien Brynhilda (1895), Nesta Enid (1900) and Arthur Rhys Davids (1897), a fighter ace pronounced as having been killed in action during an aerial battle in 1917. Caroline A. F. Rhys Davids died suddenly in Chipstead, Surrey on 26 June 1942. She was 84.

Works and translations


  • Buddhism: A Study of the Buddhist Norm (1912)
  • Buddhist Psychology: An Inquiry into the Analysis and Theory of Mind in Pali Literature (1914)
  • Old Creeds and New Needs (1923)
  • The Will to Peace (1923)
  • Will & Willer (1926)
  • Gotama the Man (1928)
  • Sakya: or, Buddhist Origins (1928)
  • Stories of the Buddha : Being Selections from the Jataka (1929)
  • Kindred Sayings on Buddhism (1930)
  • The Milinda-questions : An Inquiry into its Place in the History of Buddhism with a Theory as to its Author (1930)
  • A Manual of Buddhism for Advanced Students (1932)
  • Outlines of Buddhism: A Historical Sketch (1934)
  • Buddhism: Its Birth and Dispersal (1934) - A completely rewritten work to replace Buddhism: A Study of the Buddhist Norm (1912)
  • Indian Religion and Survival: A Study (1934)
  • The Birth of Indian Psychology and its Development in Buddhism (1936)
  • To Become or not to Become (That is the Question!): Episodes in the History of an Indian Word (1937)
  • What is your Will (1937) - A rewrite of Will & Willer
  • What was the original gospel in 'Buddhism'? (1938)
  • More about the Hereafter (1939)
  • Wayfarer's Words, V. I-III - A compilation of most of C. A. F. Rhys Davids articles and lectures, mostly from the latter part of her career. V. I (1940), V. II (1941), V. III (1942 - posthumously)


  • A Buddhist manual of psychological ethics or Buddhist Psychology, of the Fourth Century B.C., being a translation, now made for the first time, from the Original Pāli of the First Book in the Abhidhamma-Piţaka, entitled Dhamma-Sangaṇi (Compendium of States or Phenomena) (1900). (Includes an original 80 page introduction.) Reprint currently available from Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-4702-9.
  • Psalms of the Early Buddhists: Volume I. Psalms of the Sisters. By C. A. F. Rhys Davids. London: Pali Text Society, 1909, at A Celebration of Women Writers
  • Points of controversy; or, Subjects of discourse; being a translation of the Kathā-vatthu from the Abhidhamma-piṭaka, Co-authored with Shwe Zan Aung (1915)


  • The Patna Congress and the "Man" By C. A. F. Rhys Davids. The Journal Of The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain And Ireland. (1929) pp. 27–36
  • The Soul-Theory in Buddhism By C. A. F. Rhys Davids. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1903) pp. 587–591
  • Buddhism and Ethics By C. A. F. Rhys Davids. The Buddhist Review Vol. 1 No. 1. (1909) pp. 13–23
  • Pali Text Society By Shwe Zan Aung and C. A. F. Rhys Davids. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. (1917) pp. 403–406
  • Original Buddhism and Amṛta By C. A. F. Rhys Davids. Melanges chinois et bouddhiques. July 1939. pp. 371–382
  • Intellect and the Khandha Doctrine By C. A. F. Rhys Davids. The Buddhist Review. Vol. 2. No. 1 (1910) pp. 99–115
  • Notes on Early Economic Conditions in Northern India By C. A. F. Rhys Davids. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. (1901) pp. 859–888
  • On the Will in Buddhism By C. A. F. Rhys Davids. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. (1898) pp. 47–59

See also


  1. ^ "Church Guide" (PDF). Wadhurst Parish Church. p. 13. Retrieved 28 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Payne, Russell (21 May 2012). "The Foley Family. A tragedy from the past (The Secrets of Wadhurst Church)". YouTube. Retrieved 28 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Warsop, Keith (2004). The Early F.A. Cup Finals and the Southern Amateurs. Soccer Data. p. 79.  
  4. ^ Description of Caroline Rhys Davids' papers


  • Wickremeratne, Ananda. The Genesis of an Orientalist: Thomas William Rhys Davids and Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984. ISBN 0-8364-0867-5.

External links

  • Mrs. Rhys Davids' Dialogue with Psychology (1893-1924) By Teresina Rowell Havens. Philosophy East & West. V. 14 (1964) pp. 51–58
  • Records of Caroline Rhys Davids at Senate House Library, University of London
  • Library of Congress listing of C. A. F. Rhys Davids' publications
  • University of Cambridge Library Archive Collection - Rhys Davids Family
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