Mismatched Concepts of Early Medieval Chinese Religious History
A talk by Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania)
Thursday, November 04, 2004
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
4357 Bunche Hall
By what mechanisms did Buddhism first gain a foothold in Chinese society? And, once having established a foundation for the faith in East Asia, how did it interact with indigenous traditions, principally Daoism? It is commonly alleged that Buddhism relied on a preexistant Daoism to adapt itself to the new surroundings in which it found itself. A reexamination of the available textual and archeological evidence reveals that the relationship between Buddhism and Daoism during the first few centuries of our era is actually far more complex and unexpected than it is usually represented as being.
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Victor H. Mair was educated at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and at Harvard, where he took a PhD in Chinese literature (with a dissertation on Dunhuang bianwen -- "tranformation texts") in 1976. Since 1979 he has been at the University fo Pennsylvania, where he is now Professor in the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and a Consultanting Scholar in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Mair has spent most of his academic career doing research and writing on pre-modern Sino-Indian and Sino-Iranian cultural relations. Beginning in the fall of 1991, he organized an international, multi-disciplinary research project on the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age peoples of Eastern Central Asia, especially their desiccated remains and textiles. His investigations on this subject have involved numerous expeditions to the region and culminated in a major conference drawing distinguished scholars from 15 nations that was held at the University of Pennsylvania in April of 1996. This conference has been hailed as a watershed in the study of Eurasian civilization and has had a considerable impact on scholarly paradigms about the spread of ancient peoples together with their cultures and technologies. In 1997, Mair made a television documentary about the mummies of Eastern Central Asia for NOVA and in 1998 made another film for the Discovery Channel.
Among Mair's publications are Painting and Performance: Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis (Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1988), and T'ang Transformation Texts (Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1989). Mair has also translated the Dao de jing (Tao de ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way; Bantam, 1990), and more recently as edited the Columbia History of Chinese Literature (Columbia Univ. Press, 2001).
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