International Conference on Song-Dynasty Chan: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on an East Asian Buddhist Tradition

February 27–29, 2020. Paris, France.

Schedule Panelists Abstracts

The Centre d’études interdisciplinaires sur le bouddhisme (Ceib-Inalco) and the Zen Institute at Komazawa University are delighted to announce this three-day conference in Paris entitled “Song-Dynasty Chan: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on an East Asian Buddhist Tradition.” It is co-organized in partnership with the Centre de recherche sur les civilisation de l’Asie orientale (CRCAO), and the Collège de France and the École Pratique des Hautes Études – Université Paris sciences et lettres (EPHE-PSL), and sponsored by the Tianzhu Foundation, Komazawa University and the International Zen Research Project of Toyo University.

The event is free and open to the general public.


The term “Song-Dynasty Chan” refers to a mature phase in Chinese Chan history. Preceded by “Early Chan” (500-700) and “Classical Chan” (700-950), it spans over three and a half centuries, roughly contemporaneous with the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The justification for this periodization first lies in the fact that there was a process of general normalization that took place inside the Chan school throughout the period. Various adjustments regarding practice, doctrine, mode of expression and monastic organization all contribute to the formation of a distinct, innovative and prevailing religious paradigm. Through these ideological and institutional developments, Chan became the most powerful Buddhist current during that period and its influence could be felt across numerous social strata. Second, this period also bears witness to the unprecedented flourishing of the Chan school on an international scale. It was precisely during this period that the Chinese Chan was successfully implanted in other areas of the Sinosphere in East Asia, giving rise to Zen in Kamakura and Muromachi Japan, to Sŏn in Goryeo Korea, and to Thiê n in Dai Viêt Vietnam. Since then, the Chinese tradition has unceasingly blended into the reception cultures, becoming an indivisible part of these societies. Furthermore, as the cornerstone of Japanese Zen, which has been transmitted to the West and to the rest of the world since the beginning of the 20th century, the Song-Dynasty paradigm has, in fact, turned out to be one of the most widespread and lasting Buddhist traditions.

In the West, the “Song-Dynasty Chan” was long neglected by researchers. Spurred on by the discovery of the Dunhuang manuscripts, scholars used to privilege the “Early Chan”. Others focused on the “Classical Chan”, said to represent the zenith of the school. Another alternative consisted of jumping directly into medieval Japan, where Zen arose upon the return of pilgrim-monks such as Dōgen (1200-1253). Since the 1990s, North American scholars have become aware of the gap and have focused more on the Song and have made substantial progress. However, given the massive amount of available sources from this period, these works remain preliminary and there are fundamental aspects that have yet to be clarified. Across the Pacific, Japanese researchers have had a keen interest in the “Song-Dynasty Chan” and its impacts in Japan as in East Asia for over a century. Several generations of scholars have conducted and are still conducting a full range of original and thorough research, especially in the domains of thought and history.

Accordingly, through this international conference project, we hope to foster dialogue between specialists from different approaches and academic traditions in order to see where things stand today for this field of study and to suggest future lines of investigation.

Additionally, this unique event also aims to reactivate an interest in Chan on the part of the French school of Buddhist and Chinese studies, and to breathe new life into the pioneering work carried out last century on the initiative of Paul Demiéville (1894-1979).


song dynasty chan poster (wordpress)


Download the conference programme here.

[Original event posting]