Material Culture and Asian Religions: Text, Image, Object, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Material Culture and Asian Religions

Text, Image, Object, 1st Edition

Edited by Benjamin Fleming, Richard Mann


336 pages

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Traditionally, research on the history of Asian religions has been marked by a bias for literary evidence, privileging canonical texts penned in ‘classical’ languages. Not only has a focus on literary evidence shaped the dominant narratives about the religious histories of Asia, in both scholarship and popular culture, but it has contributed to the tendency to study different religious traditions in relative isolation from one another. Today, moreover, historical work is often based on modern textual editions and, increasingly, on electronic databases. What may be lost, in the process, is the visceral sense of the text as artifact – as a material object that formed part of a broader material culture, in which the boundaries between religious traditions were sometimes more fluid than canonical literature might suggest.

This volume brings together specialists in a variety of Asian cultures to discuss the methodological challenges involved in integrating material evidence for the reconstruction of the religious histories of South, Southeast, Central, and East Asia. By means of specific ‘test cases,’ the volume explores the importance of considering material and literary evidence in concert. What untold stories do these sources help us to recover? How might they push us to reevaluate historical narratives traditionally told from literary sources? By addressing these questions from the perspectives of different subfields and religious traditions, contributors map out the challenges involved in interpreting different types of data, assessing the problems of interpretation distinct to specific types of material evidence (e.g., coins, temple art, manuscripts, donative inscriptions) and considering the issues raised by the different patterns in the preservation of such evidence in different locales. Special attention is paid to newly-discovered and neglected sources; to our evidence for trade, migration, and inter-regional cultural exchange; and to geographical locales that served as "contact zones" connecting cultures. In addition, the chapters in this volume represent the rich range of religious traditions across Asia – including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, and Chinese religions, as well as Islam and eastern Christianities.


"The last few years have seen growing efforts in attempting to reconstruct the social context in which ideas have been produced. This great collection of articles powerfully demonstrates how religions, philosophical doctrines, and literary works cannot be understood any longer as abstract entities developing in a vacuum, but rather as human products that have a tangible dimension and speak of the same complex realities documented in the material culture of Asia."Pia Brancaccio, Drexel University, USA

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Material Culture and Religious Studies Benjamin J. Fleming and Richard D. Mann Part I: The Materiality of Writing 2.Bamboo and the Production of Philosophy: A Hypothesis about a Shift in Writing and Thought in Early China Dirk Meyer 3. Seeing in Between the Space: The Aura of Writing and the Shape of Artistic Productions in Medieval South Asia Jinah Kim 4. Manuscripts and Shifting Geographies: The Dvādaśajyotirlingastotra from the Deccan College as Case Study Benjamin J. Fleming 5. Representations of Religion in The Tibet Mirror: The Newspaper as Religious Object and Patterns of Continuity and Rupture in Tibetan Material Culture Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa Part II: Amulets, Talismans, and Religious Economies 6. An Ingestible Scripture: Qur'ānic Erasure and the Limits of “Popular” Religion Travis Zadeh 7. Buddhism on the Battlefield: The Cult of the "Substitute Body" Talisman in Imperial Japan (1890-1945) Kevin Bond 8. The Material Turn: An Introduction to Thai Sources for the Study of Buddhist Amulets Justin McDaniel Part III: Image in Context 9. Ninshô, Ryôhen, and the Twenty-Five Bodhisattvas of Hakone Hank Glassman 10. Encountering Ascetics On and Beyond the Indian Temple Wall Tamara I. Sears 11. Goddesses in Text and Stone: Temples of the Yoginīs in Light of Tantric and Purānic Literature Shaman Hatley Part IV: Trade, Travel, and Hybridity 12. Material Culture and Ruler Ideology in South Asia: The Case of Huviska’s Skanda-Kumāra with Viśākha Coinage Richard D. Mann 13. Literary and Visual Narratives in Gandhāran Buddhist Manuscripts and Material Cultures: Localizations of Jātakas, Avadānas, and Previous-birth Stories Jason Neelis 14. Reimagining the "East": Eurasian Trade, Asian Religions, and Christian Identities Annette Yoshiko Reed 15. Seeing the Religious Image in the Historical Account: Icons and Idols in the Islamic Past Jamal J. Elias

About the Editors

Benjamin J. Fleming is Visiting Scholar in Religious Studies, Cataloger of Indic Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania. He has published articles in Numen, BSOAS, and Religion Compass on pilgrimage and ritual in South Asia. His manuscript preservation and digitization work includes the Ramamala Library Project (Bangladesh) through the British Library’s Endangered Archive Program.

Richard D. Mann is Associate Professor, Religion Program, College of the Humanities, Carleton University. He has worked on Indian numismatics, the early history of the deity Skanda-Karttikea and epic narratives. Most recently, he is the author of The Rise of Mahasena (2012).

About the Series

Routledge Research in Religion, Media and Culture

This series of Routledge monographs provides both new and established scholars the opportunity to publish original research in Religion, Media and Culture. The series includes a wide range of investigations of media in relation to religious practice and belief in any historical period or geographical domain. Media examined in this series include everyday objects such as statues, dolls, and photographs; visual media such as wood cuts, icons or illuminated manuscripts; and newer media such as radio, film, television, and Internet. Volumes go beyond focusing on how messages are delivered to passive audiences, and contribute to an evolving paradigm of understanding creative audiences for whom media are an integral part of lived religion. Studies draw on a variety of methods for their investigations.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Eastern
RELIGION / History