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The “Religion of Images”? – Buddhist Image Worship in the Early Medieval Chinese Imagination
September 15, 2016 @ 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm
Art historians and scholars of Chinese Buddhism have long recognized that Buddhism exerted a decisive influence on the use of sacred icons within nearly all forms of Chinese religion. So significant was Buddhism’s role in introducing, popularizing, or otherwise emphasizing novel image-practices that Buddhism was supposedly known in medieval China as the “religion of images.” Beginning with a consideration of the history and meaning of the term “religion of images,” this presentation reconsiders certain aspects of this story. Examining the way that sacred icons and their worship are discussed in literary sources, Dr. Greene suggests that image worship was, in fact, not generally perceived as a distinctly Buddhist or non-Chinese practice. Ironically, image worship was first represented as a “foreign” practice only long after it had already become a part of most forms of Chinese religion.