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"Strange Parallels: Consecrated Chinese Buddhist Images in Context"

Friday, December 3, 2021 at 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Virtual Event

Please join us for a talk by James Robson 羅柏松 (James C. Kralik and Yunli Lou Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University).

It has become increasingly well-known that religious statues throughout Asia have hidden cavities that are filled with various objects inserted during a consecration ritual.  This talk explores the hidden world of these statues through a discussion of a large collection of statues from throughout East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam), including some intriguing European examples. The history of such images has been the object of much research in Japan and Korea that this talk will also use to contextualize the Chinese Buddhist images.  These statues provide a valuable glimpse of local religion, ritual practice, lay devotion, and sutra fragments. These statues also raise a host of significant interpretive questions for historians of religion, including issues such as the place of icon animation, idolatry, and iconoclasm in Chinese Buddhism and Chinese Religious history generally.  The images discussed in this talk contain a niche carved into their back (or sometimes in the uṣṇīṣa, base, or pedestal) that is filled with a variety of objects, including relics, religious manuscripts and printed texts, medicinal herbs, desiccated insects, talismans with magical writing, and a “consecration certificate” or “vow text.” These statues are ubiquitous but have had a particularly intriguing history of visibility and concealment in East Asia and in Western scholarship. This talk will raise questions about why sacred images and icons such as these have been objects of extreme devotion for some, but also presented problems for priests, politicians, missionaries, philosophers, and academics who for various reasons have found them distasteful, attacked their validity and power, and have tried to hide them away or destroy them. Why, even in the face of ideological critique and iconoclastic destruction, have they persisted and proliferated?

The Cornell Buddhist Studies Seminar Series is co-sponsored by the GPSA-FC, the Departments of Anthropology, Asian Studies and Philosophy, by the South Asia Program, and by the Society for the Humanities. The talk is open to all interested; for accessibility queries please contact

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