Religion in China
Chinese conceptions of race and diversity
Religious literature and religion in literature
Religion in China
I teach about religion in China and East Asia, with a focus on Buddhism. In my research I specialize in the intellectual and institutional history of Chinese Buddhism during the modern period. I have studied Buddhist responses to elements of modernity, such as the discourses surrounding both religion and modern science; and I am currently writing a “biography” of Huáyán 華嚴 school of Chinese Buddhism in the early twentieth century. As an extension of my work on Chinese Buddhism, I helped establish the Database of Modern Chinese Buddhism.
Kristian Petersen is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. His intellectual interests include Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, Islamic Studies, Chinese Religions, and Media Studies. He is host of the New Books in Religion and New Books in Islamic Studies podcasts. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently writing a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims and working as part of the team developing De Gruyter’s new series, Introductions to Digital Humanities: Religion.
I currently am teaching in the department of East Asian Studies at McGill University, where I also received my PhD. I research religion and urbanization in modern China with an emphasis on space and sensation. My current project is entitled Urban Temples and Ritual Affects: Daoist Masters, Local Gods, and Communal Temples in Modern Xiamen.
My field of research is religion in medieval China (roughly fourth to tenth century, CE). To date I have concentrated on three major areas of interest: bodily practice in Chinese Religions; the creation and transmission of new religious practices and doctrines; and the religious dimensions of commodity culture. In particular, I have focused on self-immolation, Chinese Buddhist apocrypha, the history of tea, and religion and the military. I work with primary sources written in literary Chinese and my research engages with that of scholars who publish in English and French as well as in modern Chinese and Japanese. Although my work is grounded in traditional Sinology—a discipline based on knowledge of the literature, history, and culture of pre-modern China—my publicationsare also aimed towards scholars of Religious Studies. I Self-immolation Self-immolation is an under-researched topic that is important for our understanding both of Buddhism in China and also the bodily forms of religious practice that appear in other cultures. In my research I seek to explain how seemingly anomalous practices can provide new ways of understanding religion. This project has resulted in a book, and a number of articles and book chapters. My first article on the topic, “Where Text Meets Flesh: Burning the Body as an ‘Apocryphal Practice’ in Chinese Buddhism” (1998), explores how texts (both apocryphal and canonical) and practices in Chinese Buddhism operated in a mutually reinforcing cycle so that doctrinal innovations spurred new modes of bodily piety while, conversely, practices that lacked textual sanction drove the creation of scripture. The book, Burning for the Buddha, is a comprehensive study of the subject. It seeks first to place self-immolation in historical, social, ethical, cultural and doctrinal context via a thorough investigation of the practice throughout Chinese history. Second, it investigates how self-immolation was constructed as a Chinese Buddhist practice by three types of historical actors: self-immolators, their biographers, and the compilers of hagiographical collections. The book offers a detailed history of self-immolation in China from medieval times until the early twentieth century, and includes many annotated translations from primary sources. Four related articles and book chapters—“Spontaneous Human Combustion: Some Remarks on a Phenomenon in Chinese Buddhism”; “Fire and the Sword: Some Connections between Self-immolation and Religious Persecution in the History of Chinese Buddhism”; “Self-immolation in the Context of War and Other Natural Disasters”; and “Written in Flames: Self-immolation in Sixth Century Sichuan”—explore in more detail aspects of self-immolation that are only touched upon briefly in the book, such as the spontaneous nature of holy death, self-immolators as martyrs, self-immolation as a response to war and natural disasters, and self-immolation as a practice suitable for end-times. I have also published an article on Chinese Buddhist self-immolation in historical context and some annotated biographies of medieval self-immolators. II Apocrypha My studies on Chinese Buddhist apocrypha address how new concepts of religious practice entered the Buddhist canon in the form of scriptures composed in medieval China, rather than works translated from Indic languages. My article on a major apocryphal Buddhist text that decisively shaped Chinese Buddhism (“Another look at the pseudo-Śūramgama sūtra”) is the first study of the text in any European language. This study lays the foundation for my SSHRC-funded project, a scholarly translation (from Chinese to English) and book-length study of the Śūramgama sūtra. “The Silent Samgha: Some Observations on Mute Sheep Monks” presents a new perspective on how monastic practice in medieval China was re-imagined on the basis of certain obscure passages of Buddhist scripture. III Tea The project on the role of tea in Chinese religions takes the form of a book-length monograph currently forthcoming from University of Hawai’i Press and a number of articles. The chapter “Buddhism, Alcohol, and Tea in Medieval China,” in a volume on food and religion in traditional China, describes how Buddhists were active not only in changing people’s attitudes towards intoxicating substances, but also in spreading tea drinking throughout the empire. The book, Tea in China: A Religious and Cultural History, explores the contours of religious and cultural change in traditional China from the point of view of a commodity. I trace the development of tea drinking from its mythic origins to the late-imperial period (sixteenth to nineteenth centuries), and examine the changes in aesthetics, ritual, science, health, and knowledge which tea brought with it. The book contains many translations from the Chinese primary sources, including poetry. IV Religion and the Military in Medieval China The objectives of this SSHRC-sponsored project are to understand connections between the world of religion and the world of the military in medieval China (roughly fourth to tenth centuries CE). In particular, the research examines the interfaces between Buddhist and Daoist doctrine and practice and the concepts, institutions, and individuals that can be understood to constitute the “military” in medieval China. The issues are examined both from the side of the military, using historical documents from official and unofficial sources, and from the perspective of Buddhism and Daoism as seen in textual and art historical materials. Some questions that drive this research include: how did religious concepts and practices fit into the worldview of professional and conscript soldiers? What specific ritual practices were deployed in military life? Why and how did military leaders become patrons of religious institutions? Conversely, how and why did Buddhist and Daoist practitioners and scriptures make use of military concepts and images? The answers to such questions are clearly not restricted to the military arena, but will help us to understand better the seen and unseen worlds that medieval Chinese people inhabited. The project offers insight into the conceptual underpinnings of much of the later (post year 1000 AD) religious traditions of China, and allows us to see the significance of foundational Chinese ideas about martial practice and imagery for the religion and culture of neighbouring countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam.
I am an historian of Chinese Medicine and Religion, with a focus first in the early Imperial period, and secondly in contemporary Taiwan, China and Han diasporic communities. I also have a clinical degree in Chinese medicine, and am interested in how healing practices bridge multiple personal, embodied and social dimensions. I am currently writing a book on the emergence of medicine and religion as different but closely related fields of practice in early imperial China, provisionally titled Situating Practice: Medicine and Religion in Early Imperial China. I am also co-editing two other books, the Routledge Handbook of Chinese Medicine and Situating Medicine and Religion Across Asia. I am project lead on a Digital Humanities project titled Drugs Across Asia. This data-mines the Buddhist, Daoist and medical corpora for data concerning materia medica. This project combines text-marking, statistical analysis, network visualisation and GIS mapping to provide entirely new levels of analysis of pre-modern text corpora, showing the distribution of drug terms across time, space, and textual genre. It is a collaborative venture between the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, National Taiwan University and Dharma Drum Institute for Liberal Arts, with contributors from Fu-jen University, Taipei. The primary toolsets are DocuSky and MARKUS. I also serve as a Vice-President of the International Association for the Study of Asian Medicine (IASTAM), a multi-disciplinary society including history, anthropology, ethno-botany, ethno-pharmacology, public health, clinical trials, and is the only society of its kind to include practitioners. We publish the journal Asian Medicine, host conferences, and are engaged in collaborative research as well as advocacy to global institutions such as the WHO, the Humboldt Forum, and the WHS.
I research premodern Chinese literature and religion, as well as their dialogue with other cultures. I’m also interested in world literature, poetics, digital humanities, and translation studies. My publications cover a broad range of topics, from the problem of translating rhythm, to the evolution of a Sanskrit literary term in medieval China, to the potential contributions of network analysis to literary history. I’m especially fond of the art of literary translation and maintains a collection of bizarre and obscure translations of classical Chinese poetry into English. I’m currently revising the manuscript of my first book, Poet-Monks and the Invention of Chinese Buddhist Poetry, which explores the formation of a tradition of “poet-monks” during the ninth and tenth centuries, and the ways in which these monks sought to equate poetic and religious practice in their verses. My next project, Beyond Lyricism: Chinese Poetry in Other Modes, will explore the genres and practices which lie on the borderlines of “poetry” in early and medieval China. To learn more about my work, please visit http://tommazanec.com.
Jessica Zu is a Ph.D. candidate in the Religion Department at Princeton University. Her research focuses on different interconnections of Buddhism and Chinese modernity. Her dissertation, titled Toward an Ecology of Compassion: Lü Cheng’s Revolutionary Journey from Aesthetics to Yogācāra 1918–1966, examines the intersection of Buddhist renewal and various Chinese revolutions through the lens of translation and hermeneutics. It articulates a forgotten social imaginary moored onto Yogācāra idealism. This social imaginary rejected realism and science as the solution to China’s conundrum. It positioned itself as the antidote to social Darwinism, which was viewed by many intellectuals as portraying human beings passively trapped in the iron cage of natural laws. Yogācāra idealism enabled Lü’s new social vision that not only empowered an impersonal moral agency to transform sentient beings together with their environments but also promised to build a deliberative democracy.