When Chinese Buddhism Met Psychology: Pioneers of an Alternative Intellectual History (1880-1930)

Start - End 
2020 - 2024 (ongoing)
Department of Languages and Cultures
Other institution(s) 
FISSUF - University of Perugia
Research Period 
Research Region 
Research Language 
Research Methodology 
Additional tags 
Chinese Buddhism
Science and religion



Modern Western psychology was first introduced to China in the 1880s. The circulation of psychology in the late Qing dynasty intertwined with religion, educational reform, and historiography, set the stage for Chinese Buddhists to engage with this emerging field of knowledge in the early Republican era (1912–1949). Gradual teachings (jian jiao) and precepts (pusa jie) were stressed to align Buddhism with science and modern society. Monastic education reforms involved the incorporation of psychology and other scientific subjects within the framework of the five fields of knowledge (wu ming; Skt. pañca-vidyā). Thus, in the 1920s, Psychology was construed as confined to the study of the first six consciousnesses, resembling Hīnayāna understanding of mind. The timeline of this research project on intellectual history ends in the early 1930s, as this and the following decade witnessed the growing interest in the social application of psychology in China, which is evident in both revolutionary thought and the Pure Land tradition. 



Phd Student(s)


Ester Bianchi

Università degli studi di Perugia