Ghosts and Hells – An exhibition on the Underworld in Asian art at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac

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On 10 April 2018 a new exhibition that focuses on perceptions and artistic expressions of the underworld in Asian art will open at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris. Various art forms including literature, film, visual arts, performing arts, design, manuscript art have been chosen to showcase ideas of the underworld – hells, ghosts, spirits, horror and fantastic creatures – in the context of Asian cultures and imaginations.

The curator, Julien Rousseau, Head of the Asia Heritage Collections at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, sought advice from various museum and library curators across Europe while curating this very promising exhibition.

The museum’s announcement of the exhibition includes the following interesting outlook: “Ghosts and Hells – the underworld in Asian art explores their omnipresence not only in objects and documents but also in the performing arts, cinema and comics in an attempt to better understand how they work. After all, whilst Buddhism has played its part in the formation of this imagination – implying that souls are in waiting between two reincarnations –, it is indeed on the fringes of religion, in popular and secular art, that the representation of ghosts has truly come into its own.

A number of events have been organised around the exhibition, too. Apart from guided and narrated tours, there will be film screenings, talks with Julien Rousseau and guest speakers, a weekend-long festival “Enfers et fantômes d’Asie” and much more.

The exhibition will close on 18 July 2018. More detailed information and the programme of events can be found on the museum’s exhibition website.


Exhibition poster

The Emergence of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia: Southeast Asian Perspectives

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Symposium to be held on July 3, 2015


Mainland Southeast Asia underwent major civilizational transitions when the Hindu-Mahayana Buddhist Angkorian Empire met its end over the 13th-15th centuries and Theravada Buddhism emerged in its wake. While Angkor remained a reference for the new states that developed across the mainland, Theravada Buddhism structured the cultural, social and political forms which continue to define the region. Given the importance of these changes, astonishingly little is understood about how it actually happened, notably in the Angkorian heartland itself. By supporting interdisciplinary exchange on the Theravadin material heritage across the Southeast Asian region (including Sri Lanka) during this transitional period this symposium aims to begin to redress this gap in our regional understandings.

Knowledge on the emergence of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia is partially due to the nature of the transformation itself: marking an abrupt halt in the prolific stone temple construction, statuary production and epigraphic composition which had characterized the Angkorian Kingdom for more than four centuries, the early Cambodian Theravadin complex left relatively little easily accessible material evidence for its future study.

This relative lack has been compounded by scholarly privileging of the spectacular accomplishments of Angkor since the beginning of modern scholarship in the colonial period. Times did change however, and it is time that the body of research on the early post-Angkorian period in the post-colonial era be collectively evaluated and pursued.

Temples and stupas were built and rebuilt, statues were sculpted and retouched, texts were composed and recomposed, practices evolved and legends were born.

Out of this work, the Cambodian state was given new life in and beyond Angkor and, in such, confirmed the hold Theravada had across the region.

The dominant structuring of modern scholarship on the basis of national borders has further limited our understandings of the phenomenon at hand. Certain Theravadin forms and practices came to Cambodia from somewhere else at this time. From where? Why?

And how? What can be discerned about and from the specificities of the Cambodian complex in relation to its Theravadin relatives? By bringing together scholars from across the region, and across disciplines, we aim to break new ground on early Cambodian Theravada and, in turn, shed light on mainland developments as a whole.

Requests for more detailed information and expressions of interest should be sent to:

sg74@soas.ac.uk and at50@soas.ac.uk

UK Association of Buddhist Studies Conference 2014: Buddhism and Healing

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University of Leeds, Tuesday 1 & Wednesday 2 July 2014

This two-day conference will bring together internationally renowned scholars to explore the theme ‘Buddhism and Healing’ from their respective fields of study. The conference will address this subject through innovative ways from a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives such as textual studies, history of medicine, medical anthropology and ritual studies. One major objective is to further our understanding of ‘healing’ by investigating the complex interrelationship between body and mind in Buddhist thought and practices in a wide range of different cultural and historical contexts. The aim here is to move beyond what is now widely regarded as a problematic dichotomy in Buddhist Studies, in order to propose a new and more satisfactory model of the dynamic body/mind relationship.

Speakers include:

Dr. William B Tuladhar-Douglas (University of Aberdeen)
Medicine and the reproduction of Buddhism in Nepal

Peter Sharrock (University of London)
“The Grief of Kings is the Suffering of Their People”: the Imperial Mission of the Cambodian Buddha of Medicine

Joanna Cook (University College London)
Why is Mindfulness so Popular?

Bhikkhu Anālayo (Hamburg)
Healing in Early Buddhism

C. Pierce Salguero (Penn State University / Abington College)
Are Buddhist Scriptures the “Missing Link” in the Global History of Medicine?

Anna Andreeva (Heidelberg)
Buddhism and Childbirth in Pre-modern Japan

Colin Millard (University of Cardiff)
The Oser Kyilpa Bon Mendrub Ritual

Paula Arai (Louisiana State University)
Homespun Healing Rituals

The conference will take place in the Parkinson Building (University of Leeds) on Tuesday 1 & Wednesday 2 July 2014. Please follow the link to access the UKABS 2014 Booking Form. The conference fee includes tea/coffee/biscuits on days, lunch and dinner on 1st July, lunch on 2nd July, conference pack, and conference facilities. Please view the conference homepage to access presentation abstracts and a programme of events.

Supported by:
School of Modern Languages and Cultures (University of Leeds), East Asian Studies (University of Leeds) and Centre for Religion and Public Life (University of Leeds)

Conference organisers
Martin Seeger (M.Seeger AT leeds.ac.uk)

Mikael Bauer (M.Bauer AT leeds.ac.uk)

Caroline Starkey (trs6cs AT leeds.ac.uk)

Illustration from a Thai Buddhist manuscript. British Library Or.13703

Illustration from a Thai Buddhist manuscript. British Library Or.13703

Buddhist Archive of Photography, Luang Prabang, Laos

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The Buddhist Archive of Photography, Luang Prabang, Laos, is most certainly the largest online photobase documenting the recent history of Buddhism in Laos.

The digitisation of the original photographs found in Luang Prabang was supported by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme. Coming from more than 20 distinct monastery collections, this unique view from inside documents 120 years of monastic life and ritual, pilgrimage, monks’ portraits, history and social life. Important historic and political events of an agitated century in Laos at the same time appear as in a mirror: French colonialism, the Royal court, civil war, the Indochina and Vietnam wars, revolution and socialist rule. Quantity and quality of the material are as surprising as is the fact that it was produced in a city as isolated as Luang Prabang. It seems that there has been a particular inclination towards photography, which had been introduced very early by the French, was practised by the Royal court where young princes would learn about it, and take it with them when they were ordained as monks and became abbots of the various monasteries (there are 64 in town).

Work started in 2007 with Pilot Project EAP086, followed by Major Research Project EAP177 – since then 33,933 photographs have been discovered in 21 monasteries of Luang Prabang and have been digitised, identified and safely stored. Most of the original photographs (prints and negatives) are now stored in specially designed wooden archive cabinets at the Sala Thammiviharn, Vat Khili, Luang Prabang – an historic monastic building in one of the monasteries, now entirely used by the Archive. Some minor collections have been restituted to their respective owners.

Together with the 15,000 photographs treated in Major Research Project EAP177, the additional 18,933 photographs of this second project constitute the largest collection of historic photographs in Laos, and certainly the one that has been most thoroughly researched.

Digital copies of the material have been deposited at The National Library of Laos, Preservation of Lao Manuscripts Project, Vientiane Capital, Lao P.D.R. and the British Library, London, United Kingdom.

Read more about the Buddhist Archive of Photography…

Watch a short film on the Buddhist Archive of Photography made by French film maker Herve LeGoff, who specialises in short films about the atmosphere of spaces dedicated to photography.

View on the former Royal Palace, Luang Prabang

View on the former Royal Palace, Luang Prabang