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Medieval Faculty Colloquium: “How Did Governors and Buddhist Monks Deal with Epidemics in Medieval China?”

Stephen F. Teiser, Religion

Tue, 4/9 · 12:00 pm1:20 pm · 209 Scheide Caldwell

Program in Medieval Studies
Sutra on Buddha Names, Dunhuang manuscript in the Stein collection of the British Library, Or. 8210/S. 253

The Program in Medieval Studies is pleased to offer the Faculty Colloquium series for Spring 2024. Stephen F. Teiser, D.T. Suzuki Professor in Buddhist Studies, Department of Religion, will present this lunchtime talk on Tuesday, April 9.

In the spring of 902, hoping to end a three-year epidemic, the governor of a large province in northwest China commanded monks and nuns at more than one dozen Buddhist temples to perform rituals of chanting and confession twice each month. The bureaucrat’s autograph decree and the response of the Buddhist church survive by chance among the Dunhuang manuscripts, a unique trove of materials discovered in 1900. The cache also preserves six liturgies composed and performed by Buddhist monks for the curing of epidemics during the ninth and tenth centuries. Based largely on manuscript sources, this talk analyzes how rulers and clerics conceived the etiology of epidemics and what religious therapies they deployed to cure collective illness.

Some epidemics were attributed to the ruler’s indiscretions, while others were explained by collective karma, individuals incurring debts from previous lifetimes, meddling by demons, or general catastrophes. One mechanism for cure was giving charity to Buddhist temples and dedicating the benefits to communal health. Other rituals propitiated deities, seeking their protection and requesting them to repel malevolent spirits with supernatural force. Other therapies sought to dispatch ogres and illnesses to uninhabited realms.

Please RSVP HERE. Lunch will be provided.

Book exhibit in the history reading room

Alain St. Pierre and the Princeton University Library invite the Medieval Studies community to the History reading room in Firestone Library (Floor A: turn left out of the main staircase) on colloquium days to view recently acquired titles in all subject areas of Medieval Studies. The books will be on display from Monday (April 8) through Wednesday (April 10).  Come browse!

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