Announcement: Social Life History of Chinese Buddhist Monks

Announcement: Social Life History of Chinese Buddhist Monks

Social Life History of Chinese Buddhist Monks:

A Major Project led by FROGBEAR cluster leader, Kai SHENG, has been newly awarded by the Chinese National Social Sciences Fund

We are excited to announce that one of our key team members, Prof. Kai Sheng of Tsing-hua University (see profile below), has newly been awarded a major grant by the Chinese National Social Sciences Fund, for his ambitious project titled “Social Life History of Chinese Buddhist Monks.” This five-year interdisciplinary project involves religious study, philosophy, sociology and history study. After consulting the latest academic perspectives about “Transformation from the Tang to Song Dynasties” in historical studies, the project plan is to propose a new division for historical stages of Buddhist history. With a perspective of “the social life of monk masses,” the new division of historical stages will refer to the interaction of Buddhism and Chinese culture and their mutual influence. Basing on this new division, the project will examine Chinese Buddhism with an interdisciplinary methodology of religious study, sociology and history study. The research will try to answer questions such as “how is Buddhism Sinified,” “how does Chinese Buddhism spread,” and related questions. “Monk masses” and “social life history” will be the project’s main focus. The resources will come from Buddhist classical texts, stone and bronze inscriptions, Dunhuang manuscripts and local chronicles. The topics include religious life, institutional life, political life, culture life, material life, monastic economics, monastic spaces and social life, among others.

With regard to the research path, the subsidiary topics of this project are chosen and accounted in the context of Buddhist intellectual history and Buddhist cultural history, with religious sociology and social life history as research methodology. The research will show the following three characteristics:

  1. The transformation of the subject: from eminent monks to monk masses. The project pays more attention to the common values and institutional norms of religious community, rather than the activities and ideas of eminent individuals.
  2. The transformation to the internal perspective: from the external perspective to the internal perspective. Traditionally scholars used to understand and analyze Buddhism from the external perspective such as imperial politics and social psychology. This project will try to present the entirety of Buddhism through the observation of monk masses, which is the subject of religious practices.
  3. The transformation to ordinary life: from the ideas and thoughts to bodily practices. The project emphasizes specific practices in order to show social life of monk masses, rather than the narratives of the history of Buddhist schools in order to present ideas and thoughts.

This project aims to break the boundaries between elite Buddhism and popular Buddhism, doctrinal Buddhism and devotional Buddhism. It promotes a holist approach to the study of Buddhism. It also aims to reveal the meaning and characteristics of Buddhist secularization. Meanwhile, the problem of Buddhist Sinification will also be considered in the perspective of global civilization history.  Team members, many of whom are also FROGBEAR-affiliated (including its director, Jinhua Chen), will investigate how Buddhism, following the principle of “confirming both Buddhist doctrine and realistic situation”, spread in the land of Chinese culture, and how Chinese Buddhism developed its own characteristics in this process of interaction.

In regards to the disciplinary construction and development, this project intends to integrate the research methods of religious study, philosophy, history study, literature study and sociology, to construct a Buddhist social life history that provides the significance of methodology. The findings will be presented in multiple volumes, which are arranged in accordance with the historical stages of Chinese Buddhism. We hope the project will continue in the future to be able to produce a “History of Chinese Buddhist Civilization”, which would be a significant contribution to global civilization history. It will also immensely complement many of the projects carried out under the sponsorship of FROGBEAR.

Principal Investigator

The principal investigator (PI) of this project is Kai Sheng, a tenured professor, the Supervisor of Master and Doctorate Students, and Vice-Head of Philosophy Department at Tsinghua University. He is the Vice-Director of the Research Institute of the Buddhist Culture of China中國佛教文化研究所and the editor-in-chief of Buddhist Studies (Foxue yanjiu 佛學研究). He also serves as an external academic committee member of Ōtani University.

His research areas include Buddhist schools of South and North Dynasties in China, the relationship between Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, the history of Chinese Buddhist social life, modern and contemporary Chinese Buddhism, and other related research.