© 2015 Taylor & Francis. All rights reserved. Single-country approaches to the study of Buddhism miss the crucial significance of international networks in the making of modern Buddhism, in a period when the material basis for such networks had been transformed. Southeast Asia in particular acted as a dynamic crossroads in this period enabling the emergence of a 'global Buddhism' not controlled by any single sect, while India and Japan both played unexpectedly significant roles in this crossroads. A key element of this process was the encounter between Asian Buddhist networks and western would-be Buddhists. Those involved, however, were often marginal - 'creative failures' in many cases - whose stories enable us to think this history in a more diverse way than is often done. In other cases as isolated figures they could pave the way for the 'mainstreaming' of new formsof Buddhism by established actors in later decades. This article introduces the special issue of Contemporary Buddhism entitled 'A Buddhist crossroads: pioneer European Buddhists and globalizing Asian networks I860-1960'. The research described in this issue often raises other methodological questions of representativity and significance, while posing important challenges around collaborative research and the use of new technologies.