The Pictorial Canon of a Silk Road Religion: Mani's Picture-Book and the Study of Manichaean Didactic Art

Religions of the Silk Road Lecture by Zsuzsanna Gulasci, Northern Arizona University

Monday, November 21, 2011
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Didactic paintings played an integral role in Manichaeism throughout its 1400-year history. Known as Mani's Picture, or Picture-Book, a collection of paintings was originally created in mid-3rd century Mesopotamia with direct involvement from Mani (216-76 CE) and continued to be adapted to a wide variety of artistic and cultural norms as the religion spread across the Asian continent. Until recently, no examples of these paintings have been identified. This lecture is based on an extensive study of a newly identified corpus of primary visual sources that are analyzed in light of written records and interpreted within the wider, pan-Asiatic practice of “picture-recitation,” or “story-telling with images.” To a lesser degree, teaching with images is documented from Judaism, Eastern Christianity, Iranian Islam, and Buddhism -- religious traditions that were active alongside Manichaeism in 3rd-8th century West Asia, 8th-12th century Central Asia, and 8th- 17th century East Asia. The Manichaean case, however, is unique, since the followers of Mani attributed a canonical status to their collection of didactic art, which is unparalleled by in any other religion that spread across the trade routes of the Asian continent.

Religions of the Silk Road: Transformation and Transmission in the Heart of Asia, is a lecture series co-sponsored by the UCLA Central Asia Initiative and the Center for the Study of Religion

Before the rise of the maritime empires of Europe, the ancient trade routes of Central Asia served as one the world’s most vital thoroughfares of religious traffic. From the goddesses of prehistoric Eurasia through the Iranian religions of Zoroaster and Mani, to the Buddhism transferred from India and the Judaism, Christianity and eventually Islam carried in from the Mediterranean west, almost all of the major religions of Asia were imported into the oasis towns that lined the route between Persia and China. Yet if the monks, books and relics who moved along the ‘silk road’ point to a history of religious transmission both into and through Central Asia, important questions remain about what happened to these religious forms in their long periods in transit. Placing the question of transformation alongside that of transmission, the current series of talks excavates the neglected history of Central Asia’s own contributions to the religions of the old world.


Sponsor(s): Center for European and Russian Studies, Asia Pacific Center, Center for the Study of Religion