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Environment in Asia Series Lecture featuring Huaiyu Chen – Human-Animal Studies and Religions in Medieval Chinese Society

April 29 @ 4:00 pm 5:30 pm

Speaker: Huaiyu Chen, Arizona State University
Discussant: Brian Lander, Brown University

This study illustrates how Buddhism shaped Chinese knowledge and experience of animals after it gradually took root in Chinese society in the medieval periods, and vice versa, how Chinese state ideology, Daoism, and local cultic practices reshaped Buddhism in understanding and engaging with animals. Taking approaches from history, religious studies, animal studies, and environmental studies, this study explores the entangled power relations among animals, religions, the state, and the local community in medieval China. With the drastic increase of population in the medieval periods, local community and religious practitioners expanded their activities and were often confronted with various wild animals. While competing with the dominant power of the state and negotiating with the local community, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism mobilized their intellectual, spiritual, and material resources of knowing, categorizing, pacifying, petting, and accompanying animals and developed their doctrines, rituals, discourses, and practices to deal with complicated power relations between animals and humans. Drawing upon a wide range of sources, such as traditional texts, stone inscriptions, and manuscripts, as well as visual materials, this study invites readers to embark on a journey to the unchartered territory of felines, reptiles, and birds that surrounded the medieval Chinese religious world, represented by the tiger, snake, and parrot especially. Wisdoms, virtues, colors, sounds, and powers from both human and animal realms piece together for making a fascinating chapter of human history.

Huaiyu Chen (Ph.D., Princeton University) is Professor of Buddhism and Chinese Religions at Arizona State University. He has many publications on Chinese Buddhism, Religions on the Silk Road, animals in Chinese religions, and the history of modern Chinese humanities. His recent publications include In the Land of Tigers and Snakes: Living with Animals in Medieval Chinese Religions (2023) and Animals and Plants in Chinese Religions and Science (2023). He has received a membership from Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2011-2012), Spalding Visiting Fellowship from Clare Hall of Cambridge University (2014-2015), and a visiting scholarship from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin (2018). 

Also via Zoom.
Register at: https://harvard.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0qcuygqjsiGNbg0qfZTS1ZdCxjnoKg9zx9


April 29
4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Event Categories:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


CGIS Knafel K262

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States

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