The awakening of the hinterland. The regional establishment of mainstream Buddhist traditions in Mid-Tang China (755-845)

Start - End 
2021 - 2024 (ongoing)



My research project concerns the formation of monastic networks in provincial China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), focusing primarily on the Buddhist traditions of Chan, Vinaya, and Esotericism, which have yet to be explored as a series of related regional movements. I investigate the dissemination of these traditions in the context of the unprecedented dispersal of the state bureaucracy in the wake of the collapse of central government and the subsequent geographical division of the empire into a number of enclaves in the second half of the eighth century. To date, scholarship on the history of Tang Buddhism has focused primarily on the imperial court’s policies towards the religion based on sources derived from the political centre. By contrast, my research explores hitherto neglected stelae inscriptions composed by state officials on behalf of local Buddhist monks and monasteries. Breaking with the firmly established centre-oriented narrative of mainstream Tang Buddhist traditions, these texts reveal that remote regions became vibrant centres for the dissemination and development of those traditions. The texts will be examined in order to map major regional Buddhist centres; identify significant leaders of provincial monastic communities; and trace the dynamics of the integration of these local groups into the highest elite stratum of Tang society.