Nov 13 2014, 5-7:30pm, “Seals, Silk Roads, and the Sources of Chinese Buddhism”

The next session of the John E. Sawyer Seminar “Critical Silk Road Studies” will take place on November 13, 2014, 5-7:30pm in ICC 662 at Georgetown University (; best accessed by taking the elevator behind the coffee shop on the ground-floor level of ICC).  This session is entitled “Case Study of an Oasis City: Dunhuang” and features the following speakers:

Paul Copp (Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago)

“Seals, Silk Roads, and the Sources of Chinese Buddhism”

Abstract: Chinese Buddhism in the Tang Empire (618-907 CE) and through the tenth century was at every level thoroughly embedded within, and nurtured by, the broad Central Eurasian world of trade and cultural exchange we now call the “Silk Roads.” This paper explores Chinese Buddhist stamp-seals and sealing practices as one set of evidence for this fact. The importance of seals in Buddhism, not only in China but nearly everywhere, is most famously clear in the key metaphors they provided the religion (“Seal of the Buddha,” “Mind Seal,” “mudrā,” etc). The omnipresence of this imagery in Buddhism is easy to understand: Seals had since ancient times been central facts of civilization across the Silk Roads. The paper focuses on the practices of wearing seals as amulets and employing them in ritual practices of healing and spiritual transformation. It takes evidence discovered within the Dunhuang corpus as its main point of departure: images of seal-bearing bodhisattvas from cave murals and portable silk paintings, and manuscript manuals for the making and use of Buddhist talismanic-seals. These paintings and writings, the paper shows, reveal ancient and trans-Eurasian styles of religious practice at the heart of Chinese Buddhism.

Stephen F. Teiser (D. T. Suzuki Professor in Buddhist Studies and Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Princeton University)

“Institutions of Literacy and the Dunhuang Corpus”

Abstract: Approximately 60,000 surviving Dunhuang manuscripts were produced from roughly the sixth through the tenth centuries. Now that high-quality catalogues of the entire corpus are nearly finished, it will soon be possible to reconsider the circumstances in which the texts came to be produced and reproduced.  This paper makes a preliminary survey of the different kinds of texts produced at Dunhuang, asking fundamental questions for each genre: Who produced them? Where? Through which institutions or social groups? For what purposes?


Francisca Cho (Associate Professor, Department of Theology, Georgetown University)

Each speaker will give a brief presentation, followed by a general discussion of their pre-circulated papers which will be sent to registered participants.  Food and drinks will be served.  All current faculty, academic staff, and graduate and undergraduate students are welcome to participate.  Registration by emailing is required; due to limited space, a response by November 6 is strongly encouraged.