Doxographies of Empire
The Imperial Transformation of Japanese Buddhist Thought
Stephan Kigensan Licha
This lecture will be available only on Zoom
December 14th, 2022 18:00
The argument that “Buddhism” as the “Eastern World Religion” is a Western colonial construct is widely accepted. What has received less attention is that also the Japanese encounter with non-Mahāyāna forms of Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia during the 19th century occurred in a space structured by Empire, namely by established European domination and budding Japanese ambition. The question of how to order the Buddhist world, in short, was an inherently political one.
Taking as primary example the reception of the Sri Lankan Buddhist tradition in Japan, the speaker will show how the unprecedented entwinement of Western scholarly and Eastern scholastic perspectives on South and Southeast Asian Buddhism occasioned a re-interpretation of traditional East Asian Buddhist doxographies into tools for articulating a justification for Japanese imperial expansion. Eventually, these doxographies would come to be applied even to fellow Mahāyānists in China and Korea, and Japanese Buddhists would claim for their tradition to be the sole repository of the authentic Buddhist teachings as a whole. Through the efforts of the likes of Takakusu Junjirō, these doxographies and their attendant imperialist values eventually reached Western Buddhologists and continued to cause havoc in the discipline well into the 20th century.
Stephan Kigensan Licha received his PhD from SOAS in 2012 and is a faculty member in the Department of Japanese Studies at the University of Heidelberg. He specialises in the intellectual history of East Asian Buddhism, with an emphasis on the tantric, Tiantai/Tendai, and Chan/Zen traditions during the pre-modern, and the global history of Buddhist modernism during the modern period. He has published numerous articles on these topics, and his monograph, Esoteric Zen: Zen and the Tantric Teachings in Premodern Japan is forthcoming with Brill.
The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from december 12.
Ogyū Sorai’s Political Theory Reconsidered
What, and Why?
This lecture will be available only on Zoom
November 16th, 2022 18:00
This presentation intends to address the political theory of Ogyū Sorai (1666–1728), the speaker’s first topic of research some twenty-five years ago. By doing so, two fundamental questions come to the fore. First, what does his political theory express that is worth remembering? The question still deserves to be asked since there exist at least two possible but widely different readings of the theory: traditional and religious vs. secular and modern (or even postmodern, for some), both grounded on apparently explicit and unambiguously strong statements. For this reason, Sorai’s political theory presents us with the classic problem of the interpretation of the treatment of contradictions and incoherence. The favored reading that will emerge should prompt the question of “why?”: Why do these factors make such a bold theory conceivable? The argument will draw on Max Weber’s insights into “elective affinities,” as well as on Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, hoping to provide a concrete example for an often obscure concept. The answer to this “why” question is to be found in the role of conventions, pretenses, and self-deceit of the bushi society of the time.
Olivier Ansart obtained his doctorate in Chinese studies (University of Paris, 1981), joined the French foreign service, and then returned to academia fifteen years later, this time in the field of Japanese studies. He was director of the Maison franco-japonaise (Nichifutsu Kaikan) in Tokyo (1992–1995) and a professor at Waseda University before joining the University of Sydney in 2003, from which he retired in July 2022. He is the author of L’empire du rite. La pensée politique d’Ogyū Sorai (1998), La justification des théories politiques (2005), Une modernité indigène (2014), L’étrange voyage de Confucius au Japon (2015), and Paraître et Prétendre (2020).
The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from november 14.
Convegni e workshops
Exploring Language Diversity in Japan: How Philological and Linguistic Analysis Can Work Together
IN MEMORY OF ALEXANDER VOVIN
October 22 2022 16:00-19:30 JST
ACCESS TO THE MEETING FROM HERE
Japan’s ecological variety, with no less than six different climatic zones, seems to parallel the panoply of different languages and dialects that have been attested in the Japanese archipelago. In addition to standard Japanese and its dialects, there exist other Japonic languages such as Ryūkyūan and Hachijō, as well as non-Japonic varieties represented by Ainu, Orok, and Nivkh.
Information on such linguistic diversity was recorded in a number of written sources, such as the Man’yōshū and Omoro sōshi, among others. In addition, foreign observers also provided insightful evidence on languages spoken within present-day Japanese territory. Identifying with precision what languages were represented in the written sources is not an easy task, but in most cases the combination of a philological approach and the tools of historical linguistics might shed some light on the nature of the languages in question. Analyzing specific cases by researchers who focus on different sources will help to reveal how the careful coupling of these two approaches might prove rewarding, without denying the importance of fieldwork and synchronic studies.
Centered on the seminal work of Alexander Vovin (1961–2022), the workshop intends to show how this combination could be possible in practice. Professor Vovin had been involved in its planning from the start, and intended to contribute with a keynote speech. His untimely passing prevented us from including his contribution. This initiative will also be an homage to the memory of Alexander Vovin and his legacy by a number of scholars who had been working in close contact with him or with his style of scholarship as a source of inspiration.
An Archaeology of Wealth and Poverty
Unexpected Sources of Medieval Japanese Economic Thought
This lecture will be held on site and via Zoom
October 19th, 2022 18:00
This paper offers preliminary findings from research on an understudied topic: premodern economic thought. Japan’s medieval age was a time of tremendous change as people began using imported Chinese coins, selling goods in regional markets, and developing new instruments of credit. Such activities surely affected the ways that people viewed the world, yet curiously, few left behind lengthy written reflections on economic matters like those found in other premodern societies as well as in Tokugawa Japan. Perhaps that is why most published histories of Japanese economic thought begin in the Tokugawa or later periods.
What broader significance did medieval Japanese assign to wealth and poverty (and how did their understandings of wealth and poverty evolve over time)? Why did their view of usury differ from those found in other contemporary societies? How did women’s involvement in the expanding economy affect gender norms? And, perhaps most importantly, what types of evidence can be marshalled to answer these questions and reveal new developments in medieval economic thought? The paper draws on primary sources from diaries and government documents to folktales, religious stories, and illustrated scrolls in an effort to answer such questions.
Ethan Segal is associate professor of Japanese history and chairperson of the Japan Council at Michigan State University. A scholar of medieval Japan, his publications include the book Coins, Trade, and the State: Economic Growth in Early Medieval Japan, published by the Harvard University Asia Center. Other topics of his research and publications include proto-nationalism, historical memory, women and gender, and depictions of Japan on film and television. He is currently on leave from MSU, conducting research with the support of a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Tokyo and Waseda University.
This hybrid lecture will be held on site (email required in advance) and via Zoom. The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from two days before the event.
How Zen Became Japanese
The Daitō Branch and the Birth of a New Practice in Rinzai Buddhism
This lecture will be held on site and via Zoom
July 15th, 2022 18:00
The kanhua chan (Jp. kannazen 看話禅), a practice established by Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (1089–1163) during the Song period, soon became dominant in Chan (Jp. Zen) Buddhism. According to this method, practitioners must focus on a gong-an (Jp. kōan) until a spiritual explosion occurs, thus opening a passage toward awakening. This kanhua chan was imported into Japan and during the Middle Ages became the basis of the practice in both the Rinzai and Sōtō schools, as in China, Korea, and Vietnam. Around the middle of the fourteenth century, an important evolution occurred: while in other areas where Chan spread a practitioner had to pass only one gong-an to reach awakening, in Japan, several were considered necessary.
By examining the Daitō branch of Rinzai Buddhism, this talk will present the sources through which the history of this significant change can be reconstructed. It will also attempt to answer the question of how—and in part, why—Japanese Zen developed the specificities that radically distinguish it from other lands of Chan practice today.
Didier Davin is an Associate Professor at the National Institute of Japanese Literature. His first research examined the thought of the Zen monk Ikkyū Sōjun. Recently, he has been investigating the doctrinal evolution of the Rinzai Zen school from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century with a specific focus on the so-called Daitō branch, which became the Rinzai school’s main branch in the Edo period and is the only one remaining today. Davin has published a study on the reception in Japan of the important Chan text Wumenguan (Jp. Mumonkan) (Mumonkan no shusse sugoroku: Kika shita zen no seiten; Heibonsha, 2020).
This lecture will be held on site (limited space: send us an email in advance) and via Zoom. The meeting link will remain posted on the ISEAS website top page from two days before the event.