The significance and contributions of this project will be multidimensional. While it promises to advance our understanding of East Asian religions past and present, the most important contribution of this project may well stem from its methodological innovations. The project researchers will not privilege canonical sources. Instead, all sources, canonical and otherwise, will be used with careful attention to their often complex and multilayered contexts, their histories of transmission, and their limitations and lacunæ. The success of this project will be measured in part by its impact in broadening the field of East Asian religions to include more diverse materials, more interdisciplinary methods, and greater sensitivity to the particular nature of the sources used. These new approaches, we hope, represent an opportunity to move the field toward a more dynamic, more open phase of scholarship that brings to light a more nuanced picture of East Asian religions as a whole. Essential here will be the transregional context in which we are studying local traditions, as well as the serious attention we will give to the interplay between Buddhist, Confucian, Daoist, and other forms of practice and belief.
This project deals with issues that reach far beyond the field of East Asian religions. The phenomena it examines, such as relationships between technology and religion, orthodoxy, canonicity and canon formation, have significant parallels in religious and cultural traditions throughout the world. The questions we will grapple with—why does the media in which we encounter writing matter?; are there unforeseen connections between texts and artefacts—are ones about that students in disciplines as diverse as history, literature, art, and marketing care about. By addressing these topics as outlined here, our researchers will arrive at conclusions that will attract the attention of peers working outside the field of East Asian religions to approach their subjects in new ways.
This project will enhance Canada’s reputation as a nation that promotes international cooperation, not just in the realms of politics and economics but also in scholarship. Given the long history of East Asian religions in Canada, which begins with the first immigrants from East Asia and now includes people from diverse backgrounds, the issues this program addresses are not foreign, but instead part of Canadian culture itself. Placing Canada at the forefront of this field will ensure that policy makers, scholars, and students, as well as the general public, will have access to the most current understandings of key aspects of East Asian culture, a region whose relationship with Canada is becoming ever more significant. Many East Asian religious texts, including manuscripts that have been excluded from canons, are still read and put into practical use by members of East Asian diaspora communities in Canada. Thus, to investigate transformations of culture in terms of writing and reading in East Asia will not only act as a “distant mirror” (Tuchman 1978) that will allow us to reflect upon current developments in the digital humanities and our changing relationship to texts, but it will also deepen our understanding of matters important on a daily basis for a significant number of Canadians.
Leveraging a grant of fixed duration into an ongoing framework for collaboration maximizes the return on the initial investment and places a Canadian institution at the centre of a global network that would not otherwise exist. The numerous collaborators throughout the world, the students trained both at UBC and in East Asia, the permanent database of primary sources, the resulting publications, and any further long-term collaborative efforts, will together make UBC and Canada a major world hub for East Asian Studies where academic expertise can be translated into real-world knowledge to stimulate awareness of Asia-Pacific connections and international cooperation. UBC already has close ties across Asia, and as a Canadian university it is able to engage effectively with partners from countries with complicated political relationships.