All events are free and open to the public

Fall Term 2018

Monday, December 3, 2018, 5 pm
The History and Science of Paper in Manuscripts of Central Asia
Agnieszka Helman-Ważny, University of Hamburg & University of Warsaw
180 Doe Memorial Library
UC Berkeley

The History and Science of Paper in Manuscripts of Central Asia image

Manuscripts from the Silk Road have been used as a key source in the study of religions, literature, and the cultural history of Central Asia. However, they have hardly ever been viewed as artifacts in their own right. As one of the most important physical features of a manuscript, paper serves as a means to distinguish one type of manuscript from another, and can help to determine the origin of a manuscript. This lecture, based on selected collections of paper and manuscripts found in the caves of Western Nepal, Tibet and Central Asia, surveys a variety of analytical techniques in comparison to codicological methods traditionally applied to manuscript studies. By broadening the scope of methods and ways of thinking, we may gain greater precision of temporal and regional attribution of excavated artifacts.

Agnieszka Helman-Ważny (Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, University of Hamburg, and the Department of Books and Media History, Faculty of Journalism, Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw) is a paper scientist and the author or co-author of four books and over forty scholarly articles.

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

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, UC Berkeley
  • Johannes Beltz, Museum Rietberg
  • Thomas Borchert, University of Vermont
  • Kate Crosby, King’s College
  • Erik Davis, McMaster College
  • Christoph Emmrich, University of Toronto
  • Richard Jaffe, Duke University
  • Justin Ritzinger, University of Miami
  • Pori Park, Arizona State University
  • James Shields, Bucknell University
  • Alexander Soucy, St. Mary’s University
  • Erick White, University of Michigan

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: TBD
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).