Buddhist East Asia:   The Interplay of Religion, the Arts and Politics

An NEH Summer Institute ~ May 28 to June 22, 2018 ~ Honolulu, Hawaii ~ Hosted by the Asian Studies Development Program

Buddhist East Asia:  The Interplay of Religion, The Arts and Politics
An NEH Summer Institute

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Week One:  The Buddhist "Conquest" of China:  Canons, Commerce and Culture

The program will begin with an introduction to core Buddhist teachings and the trade-mediated conditions of their flourishing and spread by Institute Director, Peter Hershock. On the following day, he will consider the historical and cultural dynamics by which Buddhism became so integral to medieval Chinese religious and public life that, by the 10th century, Buddhism was considered one of the “three teachings” framing Chinese culture. Following this, John Kieschnick (Stanford) will speak about how the appropriation of Buddhist teachings and practices transformed the ritual, aesthetic and intellectual dimensions of daily life in China, but also how they were transformed in turn by Chinese cultural agency.


Attention will turn to the arts on Wednesday, as Kate Lingley (University of Hawai′i) illustrates these impacts using monumental Buddhist sites like those at Yungang, donor-sponsored shrines like those in the famed Dunhuang caves, and masterworks of architecture, calligraphy and painting, considering in particular the social dimensions of Buddhist practice through art-related Buddhist mutual aid societies, mortuary practices, and the intersection of kinship and Buddhist observations. Beata Grant (Washington University of St. Louis) will then join the program to explore how Chinese literary practices and imagination were transformed by Buddhism, as well as both commonalities and dissimilarities between men and women in the Chinese practice of Buddhism.                                                                                                                                  

On Friday, Peter Hershock will return to discuss the iconoclastic Chan Buddhist tradition that emerged in Tang

(618-907) and Song (960-1279) China. The “parent” tradition of Japanese Zen and Korean Sôn, Chan described

itself as a direct, heart-to-heart transmission “beyond words and letters,” but generated a voluminous and at

Buddha Maitreya (Mile); Northern Wei             times raucous literature centered on the interactions of Chinese Buddhist teachers and their students,

dynasty, China; Photo Credit:  www.               celebrating responsive virtuosity in ways that blended remarkably well with indigenous Confucian and Daoist

metmuseum.org                                             teachings. Albert Welter (University of Arizona) will close the first week by discussing the place of the sacred in 

                                                                      the realm of Chinese politics, exploring the at times tense relationship between Buddhist spiritual authority and

                                                                      the political authority of the Chinese imperial court.