2020 Field Visits

Cluster 1.3 Market and Merit

Cluster Leaders: Susan Andrews, Youn-mi Kim

Site: Temples in and around Hanoi, Vietnam

Dates: May 20-26, 2020

Languages: English or Vietnamese


The study of Vietnamese religion is flourishing. As work by Taylor (2004), Soucy (2006, 2009, 2012), and Kato (2015) among others indicates, research on the religious lives of Vietnamese women is the object of a growing body of scholarship. While much of this path-breaking work focuses on the contemporary situation and is anthropological in nature, the Frogbear “Market and Merit” cluster explores women’s patronage in premodern Vietnam. Two questions orient our study: How did women donors figure in the creation, maintenance, and remaking of religious territory in medieval Vietnam? And, what ends did women practitioners pursue and achieve through the patronage of these religious sites? Our one-day international conference and five-day fieldwork trip is co-sponsored by the Institute for East Asian Studies at Sogang University. It forms part of a three-year research program that examines the fundamental role women donors played in the construction of monasteries, creation of icons and paintings, and publication of texts in medieval East Asia.

Expected cost per participant (not including airfare): $1500 CAD – lodging, meals, transportation for 7 days


Cluster 1.5 Extended “Textual Communities”

Cluster Leader: Jiang Wu

Site: Hangzhou, China and area

Dates: June 5-14, 2020 (Conference June 6-7)

Languages: English, Chinese and Classical Chinese. Minimum: English. Translation of key information will be provided.


Cluster 1.5 (Extended “Textual Communities”) investigates the ways in which reading and writing the religious texts in East Asia structured and defined communities of real or imagined readers, and how the economic and technological dimensions of the production of texts affected and even created communities and institutions. In recent years, more scholarly attention has been given to the history of the Chinese book in which religious materials, especially the Chinese Buddhist canon, are an important component. (See for example, Cynthia Brokwa, Commerce in Culture: The Sibao Book Trade in the Qing and Republican Periods; Jiang Wu and Lucille Chia, Spreading Buddha’s Word in East Asia: The Formation and Transformation of the Chinese Buddhist Canon.) Although progress has been made, many more aspects of religious texts are not known in terms of its relationship to the community and the advancement of the printing technology. There is a great need to document sites of production – e.g. libraries, print shops, etc.

This cluster therefore aims to conduct field works in Hangzhou, Taiwan, and Kyoto to collect information and records related to the production and circulation of religious texts, especially Buddhist texts, in East Asia. Priority will be given to the material aspect of religious printing in public and private collections of printed rare sources and to the production sites of these sources. Training opportunities will be provided to participants for documenting metadata of related sources. In summer 2020, we plan to start this cluster project in Hangzhou from June 2-12 in conjunction with the Hangzhou Buddhist Culture Project organized by the Center for Buddhist Studies and Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona. As part of the field survey, participants will have the opportunity to present and join a conference on “Buddhist Scriptures, Textual Communities, and the Jiangnan Society from the Song to the Qing” 佛教經典, 文字社群,與江南社會:宋至清 held from June 6 and 7 and co-hosted by Zhejiang University and the University of Arizona.

We chose Hangzhou as the starting point because Hangzhou has been a center for the Chinese printing industry since the Wuyue 吳越Kingdom. Religious printing, especially the printing of the Buddhist canon, was well-developed. Some of the sites and relics can be still traced and surveyed for research. Jingshan Monastery 徑山寺, for example, was not only a Chan institution but also the center of printing, especially for the carving of Jingshan Canon 徑山藏 or Jiaxing canon 嘉興藏 because the canon was later printed in the neighboring Jiaxing country. Also in Hangzhou, Puning Canon 普寧藏 was created and sponsored by the White Cloud sect 白雲宗 in the Yuan which has been studied by Barend ter Haar. Close to Hangzhou, Sixi Canon 思溪藏 was created in Huzhou 湖州in the Song and later transported to Japan. The famed Lingyin Monastery 靈隱寺 is also renowned for keeping a rich library collection of several editions of the Buddhist canon and some precious prints from early periods. Today, Lingyin Monastery is also a center of Buddhist bibliographical research. Not only is the temple the headquarters of Chinese Buddhist Library Alliance, it also created a new cataloging system widely adopted in Chinese Buddhist libraries. Its museum nowadays preserves quite a few historical instruments for carving woodblocks and printing. In late imperial China, numerous print shops affiliated with Buddhist monasteries were prolific producers of Buddhist scriptures and popular religious tracts such as “precious volumes 寶卷.” Among them, Manao Print Shop 瑪瑙經坊affiliated with Manao Temple 瑪瑙寺 and Huikong Print Shop 慧空經坊 affiliated with Zhaoqing Temple 昭慶寺 were the two most famous ones.

Hangzhou was also a place of Daoism since the time of the Daoist leader Ge Hong 葛洪. Baopu Daoist Cloister抱扑道院and Fuxing Monastery福星觀 are still popular nowadays. In addition, numerous religious institutions of popular religions such as City God Temple 城隍廟, Confucius Temple 孔廟, Ziyang Chapel 紫陽庵clustered in the Wushan 吴山area. All of these sites were also producers and exchange hubs of religious materials. Because of the rapid urbanization and rezoning of the Hangzhou area, all these sites and their related relics are in urgent need of documentation and digitization. Many of the sites still preserve steles, prints, rubbings, printing tools without knowing their significance for studying the history of religious printing. Our cluster will collect data from these sites to facilitate future research.

Expected cost per participant (not including airfare): $1395 CAD – lodging, meals, transportation, incidentals for 10 days


Cluster 3.4 Typologies of Text-Image Relations

Cluster Leader: Christoph Anderl

Site: Chengdu/Anyue District Sichuan Province, China

Dates: May 19-30, 2020

Languages: English, Chinese (Support for Chinese / (occasional) translations will be provided; basic Modern Chinese is desirable but not absolutely necessary; familiarity with East Asian scripts)


The Anyue district situated in Sichuan is one of the most interesting regions in China in terms of studying the integration of and the interplay between text and image at Buddhist sites (dating between the mid-Tang and the Song period). As such, a field trip to this area is highly significant in the context of the Topologies of Text-image Relations cluster. Earlier field trips conducted by the Ghent Centre of Buddhist Studies have focused on the Dazu area, including the famous Baoding-shan which has also been the subject of intense studies during recent years (Kucera 2001, Kucera 2016, Suchan 2003, Howard 2001, Xu 2010, Lü 2015, Zhao 2018, Zhang 2017, etc.). In contrast, the Anyue sites have received far less scholarly attention (e.g., Sørensen 1998, Ledderose and Sun 2014, Sichuan Cultural Relic Administration 2015, Sun 2018) despite their great importance for the study of the development of Buddhist art and text production in the form of rock carvings and rock caves in China. As compared to the “central” Dazu area (which is directly related to the Anyue district in terms of the temporal and geographical spread of specific motifs, narratives, genres, artistic styles, etc.) close to Chongqing, many of the Anyue sites are relatively distant and not so easily accessible. More recently, the Dazu sites have been overrun by (mostly Chinese) tourists, a fact which makes a thorough study of the site and the collection of data in a group setting very difficult. Therefore, we will focus on several important sites in the Anyue district which are more distant and receive little attention by tourists (some of the sites are also not open to the general public). This will guarantee that the research and data collection can be done without too many interferences. Furthermore – whereas image material in books, articles, and on the web are relatively plentiful in the case of Dazu – the Anyue sites are both under-studied and under-documented. This cluster visit therefore aims at narrowing this scholarly gap and focuses on this important area in our study of text and image relations. The field trip also aims at making a large number of images of high quality freely accessible to other scholars and the general public. The cluster activities are organized in close collaboration with local institutions and experts, most importantly the Institute for the Study of Chinese Popular Culture (中国俗文化研究所) at Sichuan University. The Institute will provide crucial organizational help, human resources, and is also co-financing the activities.

Since this is the first field trip in the cluster, there will be much emphasis on providing the participants with a theoretical framework and a thorough introduction to the field of text-image studies in the context of Chinese Buddhism. As such, the activities are divided into two main parts: The first part will take place at Sichuan University in Chengdu and comprises of a series of 15-18 lectures (three days) in order to provide a thorough background and interdisciplinary perspective. The lectures will be held by some of the participants and local and international experts, in addition to the presentation of a Master students project (see below for a tentative program). The content of the lectures covers theoretical issues, case studies, a survey of Buddhist sites in Sichuan, geographical and temporal layers in the spread of Buddhist motifs in the area, historical contextualization (including the comparison of Buddhist narratives in text and image with their counterparts in India and along the Silk Road), information on the large Heidelberg-based project on recording rock inscriptions in Sichuan, and – last but not least – practical aspects concerning the work at the sites (techniques of photography of objects and rock carvings, recordings, adding meta data, etc.). The seminar in Chengdu will be concluded by a one-day trip to a famous local Buddhist site (Mianyang 綿陽).

The second part of the cluster visit will take place in the Anyue area. There we will visit several important sites of Buddhist art and rock inscriptions, including Yuanjue dong 圓覺洞, Pilu dong 毗盧洞, Huayan dong 華嚴洞, Da Bore dong 大般若洞, Wofo yuan 臥佛院, Kongque dong 孔雀洞, and Qianfo zhai 千佛寨, etc. All of the sites are of great relevance for researching various aspects of text-image relations and text-image programs. During the field trips, the participants will be divided into smaller groups of five or six persons, and each group will be assigned specific tasks to be performed at the site, including a systematic photographical survey. In addition, for each site there will be specific research questions formulated. Whenever possible, site visits will be done before noon, and the afternoons will be used to register and label the collected data, and to discuss the research questions related to the specific sites. For this purpose, we will also set up an online PDF library (currently under construction) containing research tools, reference works, and important papers related to the sites. In the late afternoon, each group will do a “flash presentation” on the materials collected and the “research results” of the day. In addition to collecting photographical material (including 360-degree images, overview images, images of details), we also aim at producing several short videos with interviews relating to the maintenance of the sites (e.g., local lay caretakers), as well as local research activities (e.g., the Anyue-xian wenwu ju 安岳县文物局).

Research questions will include the following: The temporal layers observed in specific tableaux/sites and the transformations based on them; visualizations of “canons” and texts (e.g., the revolving book pagoda at Kongque dong); the integration of sūtra inscriptions at various sites (with a focus on Wofo yuan); the transformation of Buddhist narratives in text and image as observable at Pilu dong (e.g., the Liu benzun tableau; with comparisons to the Dazu version of the motif); donor activities and their visualization in text and image (e.g., at Pilu dong where the family names of donors are preserved, inscribed on small Buddha/bodhisattva carvings, each of them iconographically “unique”; in the context of the field study, we will systematically record all ca. 320 extant combinations of small buddha carvings and inscribed family names); the transformation of textual and image material based on the “merging” of Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian motifs (e.g., Da bore dong; Yuanjue dong); the integration and identification of so-called “esoteric” elements (e.g., Wofo yuan and Pilu dong); the programmatic compositions of large-scale tableaux/sites (with an emphasis on the Nirvana Buddha at Wofo yuan).

Expected cost per participant (not including airfare): $550-$920 CAD, (varies depending on hotel option chosen)

Cluster 3.5 How were Portable Textual Objects Designed and Re-Worked for Religious Practice? [in conjunction with cluster 4.1]

Cluster Leader: Paul Copp

Sites: Temples in the provinces of Hai Duong, Bac Giang , Bac Ninh and the Hanoi area (all northern Vietnam). For details see the 4.1 summary.

Dates: November 19–27, 2020

Languages: English, Vietnamese (translation for spoken Vietnamese provided); ability to read Chinese characters beneficial.


In 2020, alongside our “host” cluster for the year, 4.1 “Talismans and Talisman Cultures in Contemporary Vietnam, Korea, and Japan: Meaning, Making, Medium,” we will ask our guiding question of how form and visual/material structure was (or was not) integral to the nature of textual objects in religious practice in regards to a fascinating set of materials: Vietnamese talismans (Bùa hộ mệnh). We will, as a guest cluster, be guided by our hosts: professor Nguyen Thi Hien (Southeast Asian religions and cultural heritage researcher), a Vietnamese museum curator and talisman expert, and Cluster co-leaders, professors Cynthea J. Bogel and Sujung Kim (East Asian religious art history and East Asian religions researchers). Their inquiries into the nature of talismanic practice in Vietnam (and how it connects with the talismanic cultures of China, Korea, and Japan) will naturally also be important for us, since we are interested in seeing how form and content were matched within specific practical contexts, and I direct the reader to their excellent summary. But we will follow our own different guiding interests. We will begin to think about how the Vietnamese materials help us to shape our larger comparative project, in which we investigate relationships of physical form, visual structure, and textual and visual content across a wide and disparate range of portable textual objects, such as small chanting liturgies, devotional image/texts, manuscript ritual compendia, and, of course, talismans and other kinds of textual amulets.

In terms of documentation and training, we will join in on the work and study described in the Talismans and Talisman Cultures cluster description. We will add a separate training seminar (open to all) on our more specifically codicological questions.

Expected cost per participant (not including airfare): $990 CAD (single room) or $650 CAD (shared room) – including meals, transport, visa fees for 8 nights and days.


Cluster 4.1 Talismans and Talisman Cultures in Contemporary Vietnam, Korea, and Japan: Meaning, Making, Medium

[in conjunction with cluster 3.5]

Cluster leaders: Cynthea Bogel, Sujung Kim, Hien Thi Nguyen

Sites: Temples in the provinces of Hai Duong, Bac Giang , Bac Ninh and the Hanoi area (all northern Vietnam).

Dates: November 19–27, 2020

Languages: English, Vietnamese (translation for spoken Vietnamese provided); ability to read Chinese characters beneficial.

Cluster 4.1 investigates talismans (or amulets) in contemporary contexts in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, especially talismans that bring into focus various types of Buddhism alongside  other religious cultures, local and national. The initial 2020 cluster seminar takes place in Vietnam, where participants will observe, discuss, and document the creation of talismans (Bùa hộ mệnh) in northern Vietnam.

The ongoing and historical integration of spiritual practices, beliefs, and religious traditions in Vietnam is complex. Even those deeply familiar with East Asian Buddhism and its visual cultures will not recognize many of its adaptations in local Vietnamese contexts. We will be guided by Cluster co-leader Hien Thi Nguyen (Vietnamese and Southeast Asian religions and cultural heritage), Vu Hong Thuat (Vietnamese museum curator and talisman expert) and other experts in Vietnam; Cluster leader Cynthea J. Bogel (East Asian religious visual culture) and Cluster co-leader Sujung Kim (East Asian religions). Cluster 3.5, How were Portable Textual Objects Designed and Re-Worked for Religious Practice? will partner with 4.1 in 2020. 3.5 Cluster leader Paul Copp and his group will enhance our project with their expertise on Chinese amulets, both textual and xylographic. Cluster 4.1 will investigate relationships between the creation of the talisman, what it represents or embodies in its physical and representational state, and potentially false distinctions such as object, rite, and text. We will closely consider the client, the site, animal, or human recipient of the good or harm; and the maker(s). Other research questions include: How do talismans work, and what informs their actions or the intensions of those who have a role in their making and power? What kinds of beliefs inhere in these talismans and which of these are specific to northern Vietnam; how is this history reflected in their physical form? What relationships exist between certain talisman types and history—what changes have occurred over time? What are the relationships between Vietnamese examples and contemporaneous or historical examples in China, Korea, and/or Japan?

There is very little scholarly literature on Vietnamese talismans in English (we recommend and will provide copies of Vu Hong Thuat. “Amulets and the Marketplace,” Asian Ethnology 67/2  (2008): 237–255 and an unpublished paper by Vu,  “Stories of Amulets: Empowerment and Spiritual Strength”; also, relevant work by Paul Copp, especially  “Altar, Amulet, Icon. Transformations in dhāraṇī Amulet Culture, 740-980,” and “Manuscript Culture as Ritual Culture in Late Medieval Dunhuang”). Thus, we hope to contribute significantly to scant research on this topic. A range of putative binaries will be considered, including Buddhism/Daoism, form/function, folk/elite. We will consider the human and historical agencies that make manifest the “intentions” of certain talismans, including those apotropaic, salvific, prognosticative, preventative, and prophylactic. To these ends we will interview Buddhist masters and practitioners, the members of temple management board, temple visitors, and ritual clients on how the amulets reflect spiritual expectations of people’s lives, such as for good business, education of children, promotion, job, security, health, and protection. It is rare for first-time researchers in Vietnam to have access to these rites, and even more unusual to be able to document them.

We will visit all or most of these temple sites:

  • Ham Long Pure Land Buddhist temple (Nam Son commune, Bac Ninh province), amulets for house protection and amulets for funerals for those who died at the inauspicious hour
  • Vinh Nghiem Zen Buddhist temple (Tri Yen Commune, Bac Giang province), amulets for wellbeing, good animal husbandry, and house protection
  • Tram Gian Tantric temple (An Binh, Hai Duong province), amulets for mortuary rites
  • Khuc Thuy Tantra Buddhist temple (outskirts of Hanoi): New types of amulets that adapt Tibetan practices
  • Bo Da Tantra Buddhist temple (Yen Dung District, Bac Giang province): view woodblock collection for printing Tantric texts and amulets

The 4.1 and 3.5 Cluster fieldwork is schedule in November, when intense heat, humidity and frequent rainfall are greatly reduced. The number of participants is limited by the private nature of talisman production and temple rites. Readings and images will be provided in advance and participants should set aside time to read and prepare well in advance. We anticipate that three-and-a-half days of the seven days will be spent on fieldwork and documentation and the rest on learning conservation and observation skills, systematic preparation of the documentation as metadata, and discussions about what we observe in the field and how to understand it. Applicants should demonstrate their commitment to advance preparation, commitment to group work, and the fulfillment of duties as part of an equally shared effort. We hope to assemble a group of graduate students and scholars with diverse backgrounds. All participants are expected to remain for the duration of the whole program and should arrive on Nov. 19th.

In the field, documentation will consist of film, photographic, and written records. Participants will be trained in metadata production and in utilizing archival, museum, anthropological, art historical, and other methodologies. Group discussions regarding content will follow from assigned readings and training sessions will take place prior to the start of the program. Meetings and cataloguing will take place mainly at our host institution, the Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Art Studies (VICAS).  Additionally, we will have the special opportunity to study and further document an important collection of Vietnamese talismans with curator Vu, a collection notable for the range of talisman types it contains and the story it tells of the polytheistic belief system of Vietnam. Some 30 of the 500 talismans inn the collection are over 200 years old. In return we will make these collected works (and those we study in the field) more accessible to the world through Open Access (OA) documentation. Last, this Cluster will also aim to create a viable documentation system for archiving talismans that will be more broadly applicable in other situations.

Expected cost per participant (not including airfare): $990 CAD (single room) or $650 CAD (shared room) – including meals, transport, visa fees for 8 nights and days