Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Origins of the Dunhuang Studies


Fri Apr-10-2015, 7:30pm


Knight Building, Room 102
521 Memorial Way
(Between Littlefield Center and Frost Amphitheatre)

Program / Series

Silk Road Buddhism 


The Silk Road Foundation

The Origins of the Dunhuang Manuscripts

Stephen F. Teiser

Princeton University

From the time the manuscripts from Dunhuang were first discovered in 1900, curious minds have wondered why the texts were deposited in the library cave (Mogao Cave 17) in the early 11th century. Two major reasons have been proposed. The “sacred waste” theory proposes that the texts, wrappers, and paintings in the cave had outlived their usefulness in religious and social life but were too sacred or rare to be simply burned or disposed of. Hence, batches of manuscripts from several temple libraries were collected and sealed up. Another theory is that the manuscripts were intentionally placed into the cave in order to “avoid disaster,” such as the rumored invasion of the Karakhanids.
These theories have guided research and generated important scholarship. But they have also encouraged us to ignore other important aspects of Buddhist manuscript culture. In particular, in assuming that the entire body of manuscripts from Dunhuang constitutes a library or single corpus, such theories obscure the multiple origins of the manuscripts and the diverse range of religious and social institutions in which the texts were produced. Instead of focusing on the end of the manuscripts, this lecture explores how the genesis of the manuscripts provides invaluable information about Buddhist religious practice and the institutions of literacy in medieval China.
Free and Open to the Public

Speaker's Bio

Stephen F. Teiser is the D. T. Suzuki Professor in Buddhist Studies and Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Princeton University. He specializes in the study of Buddhism and Chinese religions. His current research focuses on Chinese Buddhist practice and medieval liturgical manuscripts.

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