The Nara Court Under Buddhism: The Religious Side of Political History in Ancient Japan

The Nara Court Under Buddhism: The Religious Side of Political History in Ancient Japan

Bryan Lowe - Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Vanderbilt University

Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Room 312, Hall of Graduate Studies See map
320 York Street
New Haven, CT 06511
The Council is pleased to present the 4th Stanley Weinstein Dissertation Prize Lecture.

In the middle of 748, Queen Consort Kōmyō commissioned one hundred copies—many on fine colored paper—of a relatively obscure work, entitled the Scripture on Saving and Protecting Body and Life. This text promises protection from attacks by demons and sorcerers, as well as from other threats that plague humans living in an era of decline. She also sponsored one hundred copies of the Golden Light Sutra and three copies of the Scripture on Brahma’s Spirit Tablets, a divination sutra, at the same time. This talk will place these three projects within the broader historical and cosmological climate of eighth-century Japan. While much scholarship on Buddhism and politics has focused on the way the court controlled the religion and used it to gain legitimacy, I will use these sutra copying projects to depict a world in which kings and queens were haunted by ghastly attacks and answered to celestial kings who threatened to punish the impious. In this environment, ritual was not merely an expressive tool used to justify political authority; Buddhist ideas were themselves an authoritative force that structured codes of conduct at the early Japanese court. Kings reigned through earthly laws, but they were governed by divine justice.

The Stanley Weinstein Dissertation Prize was established in 2008 to honor Professor Weinstein’s many contributions to the study of East Asian Buddhism in North America.  The prize is awarded once every two years to the best Ph.D. dissertation on East Asian Buddhism written in North America during the two previous years.  The dissertation must be based on original research in the primary languages and should significantly advance our understanding of East Asian Buddhism.  East Asian Buddhism is understood for this competition to refer to those traditions in East Asia that take Chinese translations of the Buddhist scriptures as their basis (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese).  

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