Although I work on a wide range of topics, my research is unified by an interest in understanding Chinese Buddhism within its social and cultural contexts.
Zhongfeng Mingben 中峰明本 (1263-1323)
My monograph, Illusory Abiding: The Cultural Construction of the Chan Monk Zhongfeng Mingben, will be published in October 2014 by Harvard Asia Center. I pay particular attention to the interrelation between cultural repertoires and social networks, each chapter taking up one perspective: the geography of Mount Tianmu, where Mingben spent much of his life; practices of reclusion and asceticism; engagement with the Chan literary tradition; instruction in contemplation of the critical phrase (kanhua 看話); poetry and other literary exchanges; and portraiture.
My current book project focuses on picture books (huiben 繪本) and their role in Buddhist education for children in present-day Taiwan. This work will examine how traditional Buddhist figures and stories are reinterpreted in a contemporary idiom, and are thereby incorporated into programs of religious and moral education. This research will also engage the visual culture of modern Chinese Buddhism, and the idea of creating Buddhist family life.
This project takes
an interdisciplinary approach to ideas of retribution and injustice,
considering these topics in religious, legal, and literary contexts. I seek to understand the moral imagination of
medieval and middle period China. How
did people understand the consequence of their actions? Was moral balance restored through human
institutions, or through recourse to extra-human powers?
I have translated
tales of injustice in Taiping guangji 太平廣記, and these materials will form the core of a
future book chapter. I have also presented
on injustice as depicted in the Southern Song legal collection Zhe yu gui jian 折獄龜鑑
("Tortoise-shell Mirror for Deciding Cases"); a draft of this work is
As an outgrowth of my work on the Chan monk Zhongfeng Mingben, I have
also studied letters written to and from monks in the Song and Yuan
dynasties. The content of these letters
often provides information on friendships and daily life not available in other
types of sources. Letters also offer a view
into the social networks of Buddhist monks, as shown in this preliminary
visualization of the letters written by Tianru Weize 天如惟則 (14th
c.), prepared with the assistance of Zoe Borovsky, UCLA Librarian for Digital Research and Scholarship.
Letters are also material objects and part of social rituals. I consider
these aspects of epistolary exchanges in my chapter, “Between Zhongfeng
Mingben and Zhao Mengfu: Chan Letters in their Manuscript Context,” in Juliane
Schober, Claudia Brown, and Stephen Berkwitz, eds., Buddhist Manuscript Cultures (Routledge, 2009).
Song Lian 宋濂 (1310-1381)
In the early years of the Ming dynasty, Song Lian was a central figure in politics and culture. His collected writings also show that he was well connected to Buddhist monks, and in considerable demand as an author of inscriptions and prefaces. These writings provide one window onto Buddhism in the 14th century, and I have presented some preliminary conclusions at a conference on Ming Buddhism in Beijing in October 2013.