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Title: Shaping the Formless: Debates over Buddhist Images in Medieval China, ca. 300–700
Authors: Lee, Kwi Jeong
Advisors: Teiser, Stephen F.
Contributors: Religion Department
Subjects: Religion
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation explores how and why Buddhist cultic images fueled controversy among literati circles from the fourth through seventh centuries in China. This study draws on a wide range of sources in classical Chinese, including essays, letters, memorials, edicts, and court debates, as well as Buddhist texts translated from Indian languages and authored in Chinese, to uncover the points of debate and the debaters’ shifting presuppositions. These sources are used to show that both proponents and critics believed that Buddhist cultic objects were vital, complicated components of what they thought was notable about Buddhism. The dissertation also argues that while the ostensible subject of the debates may have been the role of cultic objects in Buddhist practice, nevertheless the discussion covered other important points of contention, including Buddhahood, the material and institutional foundations of Buddhism, the tenet of emptiness, and the dynamics of Buddhist practice. This dissertation analyzes this multivocality of cultic objects and discusses pre-Buddhist and Buddhist conceptions of images (xiang 象 or 象􏰉). Within this framework, the dissertation suggests that proponents of Buddhist positions were keenly aware of the distinction between cultic images and the formless referents of those images. This study notes the historical continuities between indigenous, pre-Buddhist discourses and the later Buddhist conceptualization of images, while also underlining understandings based on the newly imported religion. It argues that interreligious debates over Buddhist images prompted Buddhist apologists to formulate a fuller soteriological account about the meaning and function of cultic images, resulting in a more extensive, sophisticated theory than that supplied by earlier Chinese Buddhist canonical traditions.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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