This project aims two major goals (1) to trace the formation of regional monastic communities and the degree of their integration within larger monastic–secular networks in Tang dynasty China, and (2) to refine the complex phenomenon of Tang Buddhism through the alternative perspective of non-canonical writings. Based on extra-canonical sources including epigraphy, collections of secular literature, and regional gazetteers, I identify individual religious actors and decipher religious communities that have either gone unnoticed in history or have until now, been deemed marginal. The reassessment of the roles that regional monastic communities played not only within their respective localities but also within the networks of nationally prominent intellectuals forces to reconfigure relationships between centre and periphery and between religion and authority in medieval China.
Furthermore, by employing literary sources, this project underlines interrelation between the evolvement of religions and development of literary culture in Tang China. By exploring the ways to study Buddhism as a social, ideological and religious phenomenon of mid-Tang epoch through secular literary sources I rethink the place of Buddhism within the Tang global literary movements: (1) the changing view on presentation of Buddhist topics in literary collections; (2) the changing view of the boundaries of the authors’ identities such as a ‘patron of Buddhism’ and a ‘lay Buddhist’ that a literary collection was intended to transmit; and (3) the intense development of Buddhism-related narratives of epistolary and poetical exchange among a wide cross-section of the Tang elite.