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Monks, Monasteries, and Madness: The Relationship between Buddhist Monasteries and Mental Institutions in East Asia

Tuesday, November 22, 2011
5:00 AM
Room 1636, School of Social Work Building, 1080 South University

U-M Center for Chinese Studies Lecture featuring James Robson, Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

There has been increasing attention paid to the relationship between Buddhism and medicine, but despite the advances in a number of subfields, there remains a paucity of studies on Buddhism and madness. What was the early Buddhist doctrinal discourse on madness? How has the category of madness evolved within the Buddhist tradition? While there are many records for monks who specialized in therapeutic practices aimed at dealing with those beset by demonic afflictions, possession, or madness, there was also a well-developed a tradition of highly cultivated "feigned madness" that marked the monk or artist with the distinction of not being bound by normative social behavior. In this talk, Professor Robson will discuss the history of some of the specific ways Buddhism addressed madness, but will narrow the focus of his comments to the intriguing history of one particular site in the northern part of Kyoto in Japan and the relationship between a Buddhist temple there and the many mental hospitals that grew up around it and are still active today. Professor Robson specializes in the history of Medieval Chinese Buddhism and Daoism and is particularly interested in issues of sacred geography, local religious history, talismans, religious art, and the historical development of Chan/Zen Buddhism. He is the author of Power of Place: The Religious Landscape of the Southern Sacred Peak (Nanyue ??) in Medieval China (Harvard University Asia Center, East Asia Monograph Series [Harvard University Press] 2009), which received the Stanislas Julien Prize for 2010 by the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres [Prix Stanislas Julien by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (Institut de France)]. He is also the co-editor of Buddhist Monasticism in East Asia: Places of Practice (London: Routledge, 2010). His publications include: "Signs of Power: Talismanic Writing in Chinese Buddhism" (in History of Religions 2008), "Buddhism and the Chinese Marchmount System [Wuyue]: A Case Study of the Southern Marchmount (Mt. Nanyue)," "A Tang Dynasty Chan Mummy [roushen] and a Modern Case of Furta Sacra? Investigating the Contested Bones of Shitou Xiqian," "Faith in Museums: On the Confluence of Museums and Religious Sites in Asia" (PMLA, 2010), and "Buddhist Sacred Geography in China". He is presently engaged in a long-term collaborative research project with the École Française d’Extrême-Orient studying a large collection of local religious statuary from Hunan province.