All events are free and open to the public

Spring Term 2019

Thursday, January 24, 2019, 5pm
Is the Śaiva Source of the Buddhist Herukābhidhāna's Treatment of Initiation pre-Tantric?
Alexis Sanderson, University of Oxford
180 Doe Library
UC Berkeley

Image for Sanderson talk

In his work, Alexis Sanderson has maintained that the treatment of the topic of initiation found in the Buddhist Tantra Herukābhidhāna, also known as the Laghvabhidhāna or Laghuśaṃvara, has been adopted with some light editing from a Śaiva source. In this lecture he puts forward the hypothesis that this source, though surviving within a Tantric Śaiva work, shows archaic features that suggest that it has been drawn in from the lost scriptural literature of the pre-Tantric Kāpālikas.

Alexis Sanderson is Spalding Professor Emeritus of Eastern Religions and Ethics, and Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. He is a scholar of Sanskrit, specializing in early medieval religion in India and Southeast Asia, with a focus on the history of Śaivism (including esoteric Śaiva tantra), its relations with the state, and its influence on Buddhism and Vaiṣṇavism.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019, 5pm
From the Upper Indus to the East Coast of China:
On the Origin of the Pictorial Representation of the Lotus Sūtra

Haiyan Hu-von Hinüber, Peking University
180 Doe Memorial Library
UC Berkeley

Image for January 30, 2019 Talk

In Chinese Buddhist art, there is an image of two sitting Buddhas, Śākyamuni and Prabhūtaratna, which can be traced back to the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra. Because (until 2012) no image of the “Two Sitting Buddhas” had been found outside China, it has been assumed that the depiction of this pair of Buddhas is of Chinese origins. Drawing on four images that have been discovered since 2012, this talk will argue that the depiction of the “Two Sitting Buddhas” originated in the ancient Indian cultural area and then spread along the Silk Road to China.

Trained in Indology and Buddhist Studies in China (Peking University, MA) and Germany (Göttingen, PhD), Haiyan Hu-von Hinüber has held professorial appointments, teaching and serving as research scholar at the universities of Freiburg, Copenhagen, Vienna and Erfurt. She has also been visiting scholar in France, Japan and China, and she has served as Professor-at-large at the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies, Shandong-University (China). Recently she has served as senior researcher at Shenzhen-University (China), and currently she is attached in the same capacity to the Center of Buddhist Studies, Peking University.

Co-sponsored by the Tang Center for Silk Road Studies.

Thursday, January 31, 2019, 5pm
The Veda, Indian Grammarians, and the Language of Early Buddhism
Oskar von Hinüber, Albert-Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg
370 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

Image for Hinüber talk

Connections between the Vedic language and that of early Buddhism were observed already during the beginnings of Buddhology in Europe. After a brief survey of research, some features of syntax and vocabulary are discussed, while concentrating on the Vedic meaning of certain words and terms such as grāma or saṃkakṣikā partly unrecognized so far and preserved only in the oldest Buddhist texts. Particular attention is paid to the formation of the Vinaya term pārājika used to designate the first group of offenses, the transgression of which entails expulsion from the Saṃgha. Lastly, a verse from the first part of the Samyuttanikāya is interpreted to demonstrate, how the original form of this Buddhist verse can be reconstructed and the meaning understood only by referring to a Vedic text.

Oskar von Hinüber is professor emeritus for indologie of the Albert-Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg. He is ordinary member of the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz, associé étranger (Membre de l’Institut) of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Paris, and corresponding member of the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna.

Thursday, February 7, 2019, 5 pm
Chinese Animal Gods
Meir Shahar, Tel Aviv University
3335 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

Chinese Animal Gods image

Our ancestors depended upon beasts of burden for a living. In the Chinese case this dependence was reflected in the religious sphere. Chinese religion featured deities responsible for the wellbeing of draft animals. The two principal ones were the Horse King (divine protector of equines) and the Ox King (tutelary deity of bovines). This lecture will examine the ecological background and historical evolution of these animal-protecting cults. I will survey the Horse King's and Ox King's diverse clientele, from peasants who relied upon the water buffalo to plough their rice fields to cavalrymen whose success in battle depended upon their chargers' performance. Particular attention will be given to the theological standing of animals as reflected in their tutelary divinities' cults. In some cases the animal itself was regarded as a deity who chose to sacrifice itself for humanity's sake. Chinese Buddhist scriptures described the ox as a bodhisattva who out of pity for the toiling peasant chose to be incarnated as his beast of burden.

Meir Shahar is Professor of Chinese Studies at Tel Aviv University. His research interests span Chinese religion and literature, Chinese Buddhism, and the impact of Indian mythology upon the Chinese imagination of divinity. Meir Shahar is the author of Crazy Ji: Chinese Religion and Popular Literature; Oedipal God: The Chinese Nezha and his Indian Origins; and The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts, (which was translated into numerous languages). He is the co-editor (with Robert Weller) of Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China; the co-editor (with John Kieschnick) of India in the Chinese Imagination: Myth, Religion, and Thought; and the co-editor (with Yael Bentor) of Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism.

Supported by a generous gift from the Tianzhu Global Network .

Friday-Sunday, February 15-17, 2019
Multiplicity of Asian Modernities
2019 Sheng Yen Conference
370 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

2019 Sheng Yen Conference image

The conference will explore examples of Buddhist modernism that have arisen in Asia since the late 19th century up through the present day. Buddhist modernism, broadly speaking, refers to forms of religiosity, identity, belief, and practice born out of the Buddhist engagement with the modern world. Recent scholarship has called into question the notion that “modernization” is tantamount to “Westernization”—that Asian Buddhist modernities are simply examples of demythologized protestant Buddhism. However, interdisciplinary exchange between scholars of Asian Buddhist modernities has been limited to date. The primary aim of this conference is to develop new ways to explore Asian Buddhist engagements with modernity. To this end, this conference will include scholars specializing in modern Buddhist phenomena from Buddhist traditions in East, South, and South East Asia.


  • Cody Bahir, Postdoctoral Fellow, UC Berkeley
  • Johannes Beltz, Museum Rietberg
  • Thomas Borchert, University of Vermont
  • Jack Chia, Postdoctoral Fellow, UC Berkeley
  • Kate Crosby, King’s College
  • Erik Davis, McMaster College
  • Penny Edwards, UC Berkeley
  • Christoph Emmrich, University of Toronto
  • Richard Jaffe, Duke University
  • Justin Ritzinger, University of Miami
  • James Shields, Bucknell University
  • Alexander Soucy, St. Mary’s University
  • Alexander von Rospatt, UC Berkeley
  • Erick White, University of Michigan

Thursday, February 21, 2019, 5 pm
Mongol ‘Translations’ of a Nepalese Stupa:
Architectural Replicas and the Cult of
Bodnāthe Stūpa/Jarung khashar in Mongolia

Isabelle Charleux, CNRS, Paris
180 Doe Memorial Library
UC Berkeley

Image of Stupa

The cult of the Nepalese stupa of Bodnath (Tib. and Mo. Jarung Khashor) was very popular in 19th and early 20th century Mongolia and especially in Buryatia, as testifies the translation into Mongolian of a famous guidebook to Bodnath, a corpus of Mongolian oral narratives, the many thang-kas and amulets depicting the Bodnath Stupa along with a Tibetan prayer, and the existence of architectural replicas in Mongolia, probably to create surrogate pilgrimages to Bodnath. I will focus on these architectural replicas and try to explain how the Nepalese architecture was ‘translated’ to Mongolia, and try to understand whether the differences between the original and the replicas are due to local techniques and materials, to the impossibility of studying the original, or to the distortions induced by their mode of transmission. Has the original building been reinterpreted to the point of transforming its meaning? Is the replica of an architecture accompanied by the replica of possible cultic practices associated with it?

Isabelle Charleux is director of research at the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris) and deputy director of the GSRL (Group Societies, Religions, Laicities, National Centre for Scientific Research – Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes-PSL, Paris). Her research interests focus on Mongol material culture and religion. She published Nomads on Pilgrimage. Mongols on Wutaishan (China), 1800-1940 (Brill, 2015) and Temples et monastères de Mongolie-Intérieure (Paris, 2006), as well as scholarly articles on various topics such as miraculous icons in in Mongolia, Inner Mongolian mural paintings, and visual representation of past and present figures of authority in the Mongol world.

Co-sponsored by the Tang Center for Silk Road Studies and the Mongolian Initiative.

Monday, February 25, 2019, 4-6 pm
American Sutra: Buddhism and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII
Speaker: Duncan Williams, USC
Discussant: Mark Blum, UCB
Discussant: Carolyn Chen, UCB
180 Doe Memorial Library
UC Berkeley

American Sutra book cover

Duncan Ryūken Williams (USC) will discuss his new book “American Sutra” about Buddhism and the WWII Japanese American internment. The fact that the vast majority of Japanese Americans were Buddhist was responsible for why nearly 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were targeted for forcible removal from the Pacific coast states and incarcerated in remote interior camps surrounded by barbed wire. Ironically, their Buddhist faith was also what helped the Japanese American community endure and persist at a time of dislocation, loss, and uncertainty. Based on newly translated Japanese-language diaries of Buddhist priests from the camps, extensive interviews with survivors of the camps, and newly declassified government documents about how Buddhism was seen as a national security threat, Williams argues that Japanese American Buddhists launched one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom in U.S. history.

Sponsored by the Center for Japanese Studies.

Thursday, February 28, 2019, 5pm
2019 Khyentse Lecture
Recently discovered ancient Tibetan manuscripts and what they reveal about old cultures of ritual and some Tibetan Buddhist innovations
Toni Huber, Humboldt University, Berlin
Location: Toll Room, Alumni House
UC Berkeley

2019 Khyentse Lecture image

In recent years, two sets of unique 11th century Tibetan manuscripts have been discovered - a sensational development according to many scholars. Texts and paintings in these manuscripts allow new insights into the cultural outlook of the little-known transition period between the 9th century fall of the Tibetan empire, and the radical socio-religious project of forging a thoroughly Buddhist society across the Tibetan Plateau that begun in earnest during the 11th century. These obscure texts mostly record previously unknown types of non-Buddhist rites. They address a range of concerns, including culturally problematic deaths of pregnant and birthing mothers and their infants, and of accident victims, offer solutions to those afflicted by psychic torment, or ensure that new human lives safely enter the world following deaths. One manuscript is richly illustrated with coloured miniatures that count among the oldest paintings from the Tibetan Plateau not directly related to organized religions. This lecture introduces results of new research on these old manuscripts and rites, outlines the previously unknown worldview they represent, and investigates cases where this ancient ritual system influenced some later innovations in Tibetan Buddhism.

Toni Huber has been Professor of Tibetan Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, since 2003. His research interests and published oeuvre focus on ethnography and cultural history of Tibetan Plateau and eastern Himalayan highland societies, environment and society, ritual and religion, and nomadic pastoralism. His major monographs include Source of Life. Revitalisation Rites and Bon Shamans in Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas (Vienna, In Press), The Holy Land Reborn. Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India (Chicago, 2008), and The Cult of Pure Crystal Mountain. Popular Pilgrimage & Visionary Landscape in Southeast Tibet (New York & Oxford, 1999).

Thursday April 18, 2019, 5pm
A Computer-Assisted Approach to Problems of Style and Ascription
in the Corpus of Dharmarakṣa 竺法護 (fl. ca. 265-308)

Michael Radich, Heidelberg University
370 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

Image for Radich talk

In this talk, I will introduce a suite of computational tools for the analysis of Chinese Buddhist texts that I have developed together with Jamie Norrish. I will also describe an application of the tools, and associated philological methods to handle the data they generate, to the analysis of problems of style and ascription in the translation corpus of the group centering on Dharmarakṣa 竺法護 (fl. ca. 265-308), arguably the most important translation group in China down to its time. This case study is intended in part as a methodological exercise, that is, as proof of concept for the tools and methods in question. I will also argue that it has the potential to significantly change our understanding of the history and shape of the Chinese Buddhist canon in the early period.

Michael Radich is Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Heidelberg. He has authored two monographs: How Ajātaśatru Was Reformed: The Domestication of ‘Ajase’ and Stories in Buddhist History (Tokyo 2011), and The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine (Hamburg 2015). In 2019, he will be spending a semester at Stanford as Shinnyo‑en Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies.