The Tianzhu Global Network for the Study of Buddhist Cultures is generously funded by the Tianzhu Charitable Foundation and the Liuzu Temple, which was founded by Ven. Dayuan 大願 in 2013 in the name of his former teacher Ven. Tianzhu 天柱, the former abbot of the Liuzu Temple based in the Guangdong province of Mainland China. The elder monk Ven. Tianzhu was an eminent Chan master who over the course of ninety years, worked tirelessly to promote benevolence and compassion across Chinese society through various Buddhist activities. Ven. Tianzhu presided over the ordination of Ven. Dayuan. In June, 2012, one year after the serene passing of Ven. Tianzhu at Renrui monastery on Mount Qi, the causes and conditions came together to allow for the development of a charitable foundation named after Ven. Tianzhu: this explains the name “Tianzhu”, and the Foundation was formally established in 2013. As a charitable social group that benefits the public, it is comprised of voluntary members whose collective aim is to carry out charitable activities related to culture, society, spirituality, and engendering wisdom. The Liuzu Temple is very active in building an international presence, and in 2017 opened a Buddhist centre close to Göttingen, Germany.

To support this global network for the study of Buddhism and East Asian culture, the Tianzhu Temple has pledged a total of $4.9 M CAD for the next five years (2017 – 2022), with the potential for renewal for an additional 5-year term.

Steering committee

Partners and affiliated institutions

Members of the network include:

  • The University of British Columbia
  • University of California Berkeley
  • Harvard University
  • Ghent University (visit the Ghent Tianzhu webpage here)
  • Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (Inalco)
  • McMaster University

The network also includes three institutions in East Asia also funded by the Liuzu Temple:

  • Sun Yat-sen University
  • Peking University
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong

Tianzhu Steering Committee

The Network will be managed by the Tianzhu Steering committee, which includes a representative from each member institution as well as the donor (acting in an ex-officio, non voting capacity)

James Benn  (McMaster)

James Benn is a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies. His field of research is religion in medieval China (roughly fourth to tenth century, CE). To date he has concentrated on three major areas of interest: bodily practice in Chinese Religions; the creation and transmission of new religious practices and doctrines; and the religious dimensions of commodity culture.  In particular, he has focused on self-immolation, Chinese Buddhist apocrypha, and the history of tea.  He works with primary sources written in literary Chinese and my research engages with that of scholars who publish in English and French as well as in modern Chinese and Japanese.  Although his work is grounded in traditional Sinology—a discipline based on knowledge of the literature, history, and culture of pre-modern China—his publications are also aimed towards scholars of Religious Studies.

Jinhua Chen (UBC)

Jinhua Chen is Professor of East Asian intellectual history (particularly religions) at the University of British Columbia, where he also served as the Canada Research Chair in East Asian Buddhism (2001-2011). He additionally held short-term teaching positions at other universities including the University of Virginia (2000-2001), the University of Tokyo (2003-04), and Stanford University (2012).

As recipient of research grants and fellowships from different sources including Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Canada Research Chairs (CRC) Program, Killam Foundation, Peter Wall Institute for the Advanced Studies, Society for the Promotion of Buddhism (Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai [BDK]), Japan Society for the Promotion of Social Sciences (JSPS), Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Plank Institute, the Academy of Korean Studies, and most recently, the National Humanities Center (USA), he has been engaged in research projects related to East Asian state-church relationships, monastic (hagio/)biographical literature, Buddhist sacred sites, relic veneration, Buddhism and technological innovation in medieval China, and Buddhist translations. In addition to publishing five monographs, including (1). Making and Remaking History (Tokyo, 1999), (2). Monks and Monarchs, Kinship and Kingship(Kyoto, 2002), (3). Philosopher, Practitioner, Politician: The Many Lives of Fazang [643-712] (Leiden, 2007), 4. Legend and Legitimation: The Formation of Tendai Esoteric Buddhism (Brussels, 2009), and (5). Crossfire: Shingon-Tendai strife as seen in two twelfth-century polemics (Tokyo, 2010), he has also co-edited five books. He is also the author of over fifty book chapters and journal articles, with major academic journals such as Asia Major,  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African StudiesHarvard Journal of Asiatic Studies,  History of Religions,  Journal AsiatiqueJournal of Asian HistoryJournal of Chinese ReligionsJournal of the American Oriental SocietyJournal of the International Association of Buddhist StudiesJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society, and T’oung P’ao: Revue internationale de sinologie. Several of his forthcoming books include one on medieval Chinese monastic warfare, another on Buddhism and Daoism’s politico-economical roles in early eighth century, and finally an annotated English translation (with an extended Introduction) of the complete works of the 9-10thcentury Korean literary luminary Choe Chiwon 崔致遠.

Ann Heirman (Ghent)

Ann Heirman is the Director of the Centre for Buddhist Studies, an international research centre that focuses on India and China. She teaches Classical and Buddhist Chinese. She has published extensively on Chinese Buddhist monasticism and the development of disciplinary rules, including Rules for Nuns according to the Dharmaguptakavinaya (Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 2015), A Pure Mind in a Clean Body, Bodily Care in the Buddhist Monasteries of Ancient India and China (Academia Press, Ghent, 2012, with Mathieu Torck) and The Spread of Buddhism (edited volume with Stephan Peter Bumbacher, Brill, Leiden, 2007).


JI Zhe is currently a professor of sociology at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales-Université Sorbonne Paris Cité in France. He has been the Director of the Centre d’études interdisciplinaires sur le bouddhisme (CEIB) since 2016 and co-head of the Equipe ASIEs since 2017. His main study areas are Buddhism and the relationship between religion and politics in China. His recent publications include Religion, modernité et temporalité : une sociologie du bouddhisme chan contemporain (CNRS Editions, 2016), Making Saints in Modern China (co-edited with David Ownby and Vincent Goossaert, Oxford University Press, 2017). In 2014, he was nominated a junior member of the Institut Universitaire de France.

Robert Sharf (UC Berkeley)

Robert Sharf is D. H. Chen Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Berkeley. He received a BA in Religious Studies (1979) and an MA in Chinese Studies (1981) from the University of Toronto, and a PhD. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Michigan (1990). His graduate work included study in Japan; he was a Research Fellow at the Institute for Research into the Humanities (Jinbun Kagaku Kenkyūjo) at Kyoto University, and also conducted fieldwork at Kōfukuji in Nara (1985-87).

Before joining the Berkeley faculty he taught in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University (1989-95) and in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan (1995-2003). He works primarily in the area of medieval Chinese Buddhism (especially Chan), but he also dabbles in Japanese Buddhism, Buddhist art, ritual studies, and methodological issues in the study of religion. He is author of Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise (2002), co-editor of Living Images: Japanese Buddhist Icons in Context (2001), and is currently working on a book tentatively titled “Thinking about Not Thinking: Buddhist Struggles with Mindlessness, Insentience, and Nirvana.”

In addition to his appointment in East Asian Languages and Cultures, he is Chair of the Center for Buddhist Studies at UCB. He also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, the Journal for the Study of Chinese Religions, the Journal of Religion in Japan, and the Kuroda Institute Series published in conjunction with University of Hawai’i Press.

Eugene Wang (Harvard)

Eugene Y. Wang is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art. A Guggenheim Fellow (2005), he is the art history editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004), and the author of numerous publications ranging from early Chinese bronzes to contemporary art. He book, Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China (2005), which received an academic award from Japan, explores transformation tableaux in middle-period China and ways of worldmaking.

His current research explores the relationship between art and mind, visual manifestations of mindscape and mental theater, the Buddhist visualization in caves and other settings, the early Chinese “generative art” that programmatically produces visual schemes, art and artificial life, art and performativity, the “voice” or subjectivity effect in art, and the making of art historical narratives.

He is also the founder and director of the Harvard FAS CAMLab (Chinese Art Media Lab). The lab explores innovative ways of showcasing Chinese art and culture through immersive installations, films, and other multimedia forms. Current lab projects include the production of To the Moon, an epic art film project about a China-born artist’s long career that culminated in taking Chinese pictorial imagination to the moon and cosmic space. Another film project maps the meditative process that climaxes in the state of nirvana that collapses past, present, and future. Other major projects include installation designs featuring art objects and projections to evoke the experiential and imaginary spaces of classical Chinese theater.

Among the introductory courses he teaches, China in Twelve Artworks[1] uses artworks at Harvard Art Museums to anchor large swath of Chinese art history. The newly developed Introduction to Chinese Art[2] uses ten 20th century figures as guides, each serving as portals to enter historical memory lanes.

Yayu Wang (Hubei Liuzu)

Yayu WANG is the Chairperson of the Directorate for Hubei Liuzu Cultural Transmission Co., Ltd., China. She is the representative for the Liuzu Temple for the Steering Committee.




Chief Coordinator: Jinhua Chen

Network Manager: Vicky Baker

Communications Officer: Carol Lee

Mailing address:

UBC Department of Asian Studies
1871  West Mall
Vancouver, BC
V6T 1Z2