Speaker: Albert Welter (University of Arizona)
When: Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Venue: Ghent University
This lecture is part of Ghent Centre for Buddhist Studies lecture series Permanent Training in Buddhist Studies.
The history of Buddhism incorporates East Asia in meaningful ways, but still tends toward Indo-centrism in its overall conception. This makes sense when one considers India as the birthplace and homeland of Buddhism and the development of key teachings and traditions. Yet, the history of Buddhism covers 2500 years, and for the last 1000 years or more, India has ceased to be a significant source of Buddhist inspiration, and figures primarily in passive memory rather than as active agent. This is especially true in the case of China, which actively reimagined Buddhism in unique and indigenous ways to form an intrinsically authentic form of East Asian Buddhism.
Hangzhou, a former capital of China during the Song dynasty (960–1278), was the focal point for these developments. From the Hangzhou region, new forms of Buddhism spread throughout East Asia, especially to Japan and Korea. As a result, when we speak about East Asian Buddhism today, we are largely speaking about forms of Buddhism that were initiated in Hangzhou, and adopted and adapted in other regions and time periods. The most prominent among these is Chan Buddhism, known in Japan as Zen and Korea as Sŏn, the practice of which from the 10th century on is indebted to Buddhist developments in Hangzhou.
The presentation reviews how the history of Buddhist Studies has neglected and marginalized East Asian Buddhism and the role of the greater Hangzhou region. It suggests how the Hangzhou region became a Buddhist center, a new Buddhist homeland, and a hub for interactions with Korea and Japan that were instrumental in the development of unique forms of East Asian Buddhism.
About the Speaker:
Albert Welter’s area of academic study is Chinese Buddhism, and he has published in the area of Japanese Buddhism as well. His main research focuses on the study of Buddhist texts in the transition from the late Tang (9th century) to the Song dynasty (10th to 13th centuries). In recent years, he has published Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism (Oxford, 2006), The Linji lu and the Creation of Chan Orthodoxy: The Development of Chan’s Records of Sayings Literature (Oxford, 2008), and Yongming Yanshou’s Conception of Chan in the Zongjing lu: A Special Transmission within the Scriptures (Oxford, 2011), in addition to numerous articles. His work also encompasses Buddhist interactions with Neo-Confucianism and literati culture. He just finished a project on the social and institutional history of Buddhism as conceived through a text compiled in the early Song dynasty, Zanning’s Topical History of the Buddhist Clergy, published by Cambria Press in 2018 (The Administration of Buddhism in China; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqJKcl0ygU0). Stemming from this latter research interest, Professor Welter has also developed a broader interest in Chinese administrative policies toward religion, including Chinese notions of secularism and their impact on religious beliefs and practices, leading to a co-edited volume (with Jeffrey Newmark), Religion, Culture, and the Public Sphere in China and Japan (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2017). He recently received funding from the Khyentse Foundation for a project, “The Hangzhou Region and the Creation of East Asian Buddhism,” in conjunction with Zhejiang University, the Hangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, and the Hangzhou Buddhist Academy. He also received funding from the American Council of Learned Societies (with the support of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation) for an international conference, “Creating the World of Chan/ Sŏn /Zen: Chinese Chan Buddhism and its Spread throughout East Asia.” Before coming to the University of Arizona, Dr. Welter was based in Canada, where his research projects were regularly supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.