From the Ground to the Cloud: Insights from Seven Years of Fieldwork, Training, and Data Collection

From the Ground to the Cloud: Insights from Seven Years of Fieldwork, Training, and Data Collection

Fieldwork in Fangshan 房山, China. Vicky Baker. Cluster 3.2, 2019.


From the Ground to the Cloud:
Insights from Seven Years of Fieldwork, Training, and Data Collection

April 13–14 and 20–21, 2024 | Online, hosted by the University of British Columbia

Time: 6:00–8:00 am Vancouver | 9:00–11:00 am New York | 3:00–5:00 pm Brussels | 9:00–11:00 pm Beijing


The FROGBEAR project is a research and training network that fosters scholarship of East Asian religions through field visits, skill building, study, and knowledge sharing.

Since the project’s inception in 2016, our international teams of researchers have identified new textual and visual sources preserved in East Asia. The research clusters have surveyed key sites of religious practice and strategic nodes in the dissemination and preservation of religious knowledge in East Asia, with focus on the long-term production and transmission of religious knowledge in Sinitic written and cultural systems. Data collected during field visits is housed in the Database of Religious Sites in East Asia.

The FROGBEAR Database of Religious Sites in East Asia is a public open access database displaying texts, images, videos, and other research content accumulated during the project. The digital materials are stored in an open access digital repository housed at the UBC Library Open Collections, at the University of British Columbia in Canada. This database, as well as each particular item contained within, serve as a unique virtual library for interested scholars, students, and the public to discover connections between seemingly disparate geographical and temporal contexts. It also helps to enhance academic interactions both within the research teams in the project, and with external communities around the globe.

The project provides a forum for collaborative and interdisciplinary analysis of textual and visual sources integral to scholars of East Asian pre-modern religions. To access, record, and interpret this material we draw on a worldwide network of institutions and scholars, each contributing different skills and resources.

The FROGBEAR project has now concluded field research and would like to share and discuss the results of the research and training activities. As such, this conference will establish an open dialogue and increase knowledge transfer by addressing the following (but not limited to) topics:

  • Research that builds on field visit and research cluster activities, from previous participants.
  • Research derived from data collected during FROGBEAR field visits and activities. Uncovering impact or contributions that FROGBEAR project has had in the field of East Asian studies, Buddhist Studies, religious studies, and beyond.
  • In-depth discussion of various forms of knowledge dissemination resulting from FROGBEAR activities ranging from traditional to digital medium.
  • Exploring research strategies and methods utilised during FROGBEAR project activities. In particular, digital resources and other technological tools for advancing inclusive access and training.


Session Descriptions

Session 1: April 13, 2024

Who Gets Included? A Gendered Analysis of Buddhist Studies

  • Christina Laffin (UBC), Bianca Chui (UBC)

A stated goal of FROGBEAR is to contribute to greater diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in the study of Buddhism and East Asian religions. Spurred by the gender and equity related research of FROGBEAR participants Stephanie Balkwill, Natasha Heller, Jessica Main, and Michelle Wang, a group of four undergraduate students collaborated with Christina Laffin through a Mitacs grant in summer 2021 to collect and analyze a decade of data, focusing on gender as represented in Buddhist studies Ph.D. graduates and active scholars in Buddhist studies within North America. This publicly accessible report and presentation offered by Project Manager Bianca Chui together with Primary Investigator Laffin will draw from and expand on work carried out by Susie Andrews, Laffin, and Wang by sharing a series of visual representations and related analyses of gender distribution within the field of East Asian Buddhist studies in North America. By sharing such information publicly, we hope this report will help those in related fields of study to better grasp who is currently included in East Asian Buddhist studies, who gets left out, and what might enable change in the future.


(Meta)Data Collection for FROGBEAR: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

  • Bruce Rusk (UBC), Marcus Bingenheimer (Temple University), Sheng Kai (Tsinghua University)

This session invites participants to share and discuss the experience of gathering, organizing, and analyzing data from FROGBEAR field visits. From the process of collecting data in the field, to producing metadata annotating it, to using the data for research purposes. Topics could include best practices for collecting and handling data during and after field visits, lessons learned from the FROGBEAR project, findings based on analysis of FROGBEAR data, and prospects for similar work in the future.

Working paper by Bruce Rusk


Session 2: April 14, 2024

Cluster 2.1 Authenticity and Authority Research Outcomes

  • JIA Jinhua (University of Macau), WANG Xiaoyang (Dongnan University), BAI Zhaojie (Shanghai Academy of Social Science), HUANG Chenxi (Anhui University), LI Teng, (Shijiazhuang Tiedao University)

The field visits of Cluster 2.1 focused on the historical sites of the traditional Chinese state sacrificial system dedicated to the spirits of major mountains and waters, including Five Sacred Mountains, Five Strongholds, Four Seas, and Four Waterways, which comprised a part of the most authoritative religious institutions in imperial China and formed a geographical network of sacrificial temples all over China. Over two thousand years and up to present day, these state rituals and beliefs have gradually integrated with other religious traditions such as Daoism, Buddhism, and local cults, and constructed a unique religious-cultural tradition.

However, previously this tradition had been largely overlooked. Cluster 2.1 marks the first international investigations into this tradition by organizing and conducting three field visits to the Jidu, Dongzhen, and Beizhen Temples, three of the eighteen temples dedicated to the mountain and water spirits. Participants of three teams investigated these well preserved sites of historical-cultural heritage, collected plentiful religious data, including many stele inscriptions, and trained a number of undergraduate and graduate students.

This panel will present research outcomes based on Cluster 2.1’s field visits and derived from the collected data. The six panel members, who all took part in one or more field visits, exam how the state rituals were held in these temples, interacted and integrated with beliefs and practices of other religious traditions, and contributed to the political, sacred, and cosmographic geography. Issues discussed involve Daoism’s influence on the operation of the Dongzhen Temple, Mount Yiwulü and the Beizhen Temple’s relationship with the ethnic minority regimes in the late imperial period, the ritual sacrifices to the Four Waterways and their vital political function, and the interaction of state power and local communities over the rituals.

Working paper by Bai Zhaojie (Chinese)

Published paper by Bai Zhaojie (English)

Working paper by Li Teng (English)

Traditional Chinese State Ritual System of Sacrifice to Mountain and Water Spirits edited by Jia Jinhua (Religions open access special issue; open access book)


Session 3: April 20, 2024

Cluster 3.4: Typologies of Text-Image Relations: Looking back and future prospects

  • Christoph Anderl (Ghent University), Wendy Yu Sau Ling (University of Hong Kong), Kira Johansen (Florida State University), Massimiliano Portoghese (Ghent University)

(1) “From the virtual to the physical, and back to the digital: Redefining fieldwork during and after the epidemic” (Christoph Anderl)

In this introductory talk, we will sum up the activities and research results of Cluster 3.4 during a period characterized by unpredictability and severe restrictions on physical mobility. The emphasis will be on the experiences made during the “virtual fieldwork” which was organized as response to severe travel restrictions during the lock-down periods. This will be contrasted to our “physical” presence in Bangkok when the research objects could be experienced with all our senses, rather than being projected on a two-dimensional screen. Both types of fieldworks naturally necessitated different approaches, as well as modifications in the scholarly and pedagogical methodologies applied in radically different contexts. However, both approaches eventually merged in the form of the digital data produced during and after the fieldwork activities, eventually being integrated in the Frogbear Database housed at the UBC Library.

(2) “Sichuan and Chongqing are No Longer Far Away: Virtual Fieldwork and Digital Metadatabase of Sichuan and Chongqing Buddhist Caves” (Wendy Yu Sau Ling)

The dissemination of Buddhism was vigorous in the Sichuan region, including the modern Sichuan province and Chongqing city of Southwest China, triggering a flourishing of Buddhist grotto art from the Middle Tang (the late eighth century) to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). However, since the sites are scattered and the relevant archaeological reports are, at best, rough, consolidating materials for integrated research has been hindered. The digital metadatabase of Sichuan and Chongqing Buddhist caves established under Cluster 3.4: Typologies of Text and Image Relations (Cliffs/ Caves) in the virtual fieldwork in 2022 and the follow-up project in 2023 makes it possible for a more comprehensive study of the Buddhist caves in this region. The metadatabase mainly contains high-resolution photographs collected from sites in Anyue of Sichuan and Dazu of Chongqing and the corresponding indepth research descriptions contributed by the participants. This presentation aims to introduce the innovative virtual fieldwork and the metadatabase, followed by observations acquired from studying the materials, reflecting the potential connections among the sites through the transmission of Buddhistn art and the participation of donors and Buddhist practitioners in the community.

Working paper by Wendy Yu Sau Ling (English)

(3) Caretakers and Community: A Sample of Chinese Buddhist Temples in the Bangkok Area in May 2023 (Kira Johansen)

The 2023 Cluster 3.4 Fieldwork Trip: Typologies of Text: Text-Image Relations in Bangkok, Thailand sought to explore the intersections of Buddhist cultures through the documentation of Chinese Buddhist temples throughout the Bangkok area. A topic not often touched upon in scholarship due to spatiotemporal boundaries and limitations, the Cluster 3.4 Fieldwork Trip brought to light the many nuanced levels of modern temple culture, specifically how temple caretakers play an active role in the community and the culture of the temple, and the identity of the temple itself. Many members throughout the fieldwork often defaulted to interviews with temple caretakers in an effort to glean more information about the history and communities of the temples for database input. In doing so, fieldwork participants came to discover that temple caretakers, within the scope of the fieldwork, often had an intimate relationship with the temples, sleeping in them, cleaning them, and in certain particular instances had their own special practices, like providing shows for the temple god to watch, as an example. This proposal seeks to expound upon the roles of temple caretakers as uncovered during the 2023 Cluster 3.4 Fieldwork Trip in Bangkok, Thailand and specifically aims to identify ways in which temple caretakers encountered on the fieldwork are bastions of their respective temple histories and practices, and explores their specific and intimate relationship with the temples themselves.

Working paper by Kira Johansen (English)

(4) Impressions from conducting fieldwork in Bangkok: On-field observations (Massimiliano Portoghese)

In this presentation, actual “fieldworkers” will share their manifold experiences during their 10-day stay in Bangkok and – on a more objective level – reflect more generally on the status quo and future of Chinese temples in contemporary Thailand. We will discuss how Chinese temples are integrated into the urban landscape of contemporary Bangkok, how the temples link the interests of multiple social groupings in the area (such as between local residents and administrative units), how the temples have developed multiple extra-religious functions (such as turning into social gatherings/festivities/commemorative spots), and how the temples have engaged highly syncretic repertoires of the lore of deities and of their related ritual practices. Based on our field work experience, we will reflect on how the data that we have collected during our visits to the Chinese temples in Bangkok on the ground can be used to present the evolution of certain religious traditions in Thailand in a diachronically perspectives: in particular, we can trace how certain traditions commonly thought of as “authentically Chinese” have declined in certain areas over the last few decades, while other such traditions have flourished and/or merged with diverse popular believes and practices.


Session 4: April 21, 2024

Cluster 2.3 Continuous Revelations

  • Vincent Goossaert (EPHE), QJ Zheng (EPHE), Barend ter Haar (University of Hamburg)

This session will present results from the FROGBEAR cluster “Continuous Revelations”. The cluster uses the Chinese Religious Text Database ( in order to collect and present reliable bibliographic and scholarly information about religious texts in Chinese produced prior to 1949. By creating an open-access database, contributors are able to add entries and annotations to existing entries. Participants from past workshops will showcase the new revelations that are gleaned from this work, and instructors will share their approach.

Working paper by QJ Zheng (English)


To accommodate different time zones, the conference will host one synchronous session each day (6:00-8:00am Vancouver | 9:00am-11:00am New York | 3:00pm-5:00pm Brussels | 9:00pm-11:00pm Beijing) for a roundtable discussion of the presentations. This conference is free and open to the public.

Working papers will be posted on the FROGBEAR website. Select papers may be invited to submit for publication to the open-access, peer reviewed journal Hualin International Journal for Buddhist Studies or the peer-reviewed Studies in Chinese Religions.

To learn more about each research cluster, please visit For enquiries email