Emerging Scholarship

For the 2020 virtual AAR Roundtable, here are the abstract of the accepted presentations:

Joel D. Daniels, American University. 

“Does the Wind Bend or Break the Grass? A Comparative Study of Pentecostal Spirituality and Chinese Religious Thought”




The first Pentecostal missionaries arrived in China in 1907, bringing an affective, emotional, and experiential spirituality with them. This small, Holy Spirit focused Christian movement quickly grew into an indigenous Christianity, leading some scholars to suggest that Chinese Christianity is inherently Pentecostal. Pentecostalism appears to have its largest community within China today, claiming as many as one hundred million followers. How can this be? 


I argue that two of the primary reasons why is that Pentecostalism (1) affirmed central values found in Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, while (2) harmonizing with Chinese “popular” religion practices. The Pentecostal spirituality propogated by missionaries, though unintentional, supported values embedded in China’s religious heritage.


These shared values, however, only tell half the story––Pentecostal spiritual practice, which is Spirit (靈/灵) centered, accorded with Chinese religious practice. The congruence is particularly pronounced because Pentecostal missionaries weren’t educated on a normative Pentecostal spirituality, largely because there is no normative Pentecostalism; thus, they included many Spirit-centered practices as “Pentecostal.” Consequently, the Chinese people did not have to abandon their values or religious practices but rather simply reframe and bend them to a “new” source––the Holy Spirit (聖靈/圣灵). 


Jue Liang, Denison University

“Trading Western Suits for Monastic Robes:' Remaking Tibetan Buddhism in the Chinese Religious Revival”


As arguably the largest center of Buddhist learning in the world, Larung Gar has drawn in hundreds of thousands of Buddhists from all over the world, and is particularly successful in attracting Han Chinese disciples as a Tibetan Buddhist institution. This projects sets out to ask what makes the success story of Larung Gar, what explains its massive appeal, and what this story tells us about Buddhism and the religion revival in China. Using a hitherto unstudied collection of 125 first-person accounts of Han Chinese disciples who have studied and practiced at Larung, I examine the reason for their conversion as presented in the collection and query the purpose behind compiling their life stories. I argue that by advocating for and propagating an inclusive and intellectual vision, Larung Gar establishes itself as a modern institution and Tibetan Buddhism a universal religion. Tibetan Buddhism (and Buddhism in general) is depicted as scientific (not superstitious), transcending ethnic and national boundaries (not confined to one place or one time), and deeply rooted in Chinese civilization (as opposed to a foreign belief). For the Tibetan Buddhist leaders of our age, the survival of Buddhism requires a skillful adaption (upāya) to the changing social and political reality of its time.


Jakub Otčenášek, University of Economics, Prague and University of Pardubice, Czech Republic. 


"Tianshidao and the problem of (Chinese) millennialism." 


Abstract: Recently I have been reworking one of the central topics of my dissertation - millennialism in the early texts of Tianshidao. I developed a new definition of millennialism that does not reduce the phenomenon to an expectation that is implicitly self-refuting, therefore irrational, and which is more suitable for the study of its non-western forms. I search for the millennial rhetorics in the texts of early Tianshidao with special attention to the notion of the Great Peace and to the cyclical time that were attributed to Daoist messianism as its typical features by Anna Seidel. I find a disparate understanding of the Great Peace and different types of millennialism that are not always labeled by this term. I relate them to various types of agency, exclusivism and time knowledge. The texts present various practices and agents (deities, human beings, as well as the institutions of Tianshidao, state and family) as bringing, establishing or approaching the Great Peace, while excluding those agents and practices that oppose it. These agencies are related to different models of time that are not necessarily cyclical. These findings have some important implications to what is often presented as "Chinese millennialism".


Kai Shmushko, Ph.D. Candidate, Tel Aviv University.

"Enchanted Commodities or Cultural Elements? Exploring Lay Tibetan Buddhism in China through the “Living Hall” model (Shenghuo guan 生活馆)."  

Abstract:Tibetan Buddhism had; in the past few decades gone through significant  revitalization. Today, one of the most striking trends in urban Buddhism is the spread of Tibetan Buddhist practices, teachers and texts into ethnic Han Chinese areas (Bianchi 2004, Jones, 2011). However, this accrues alongside regression in the matter of religious freedom under the Current regime, such as elaborate new regulations for religious groups (Laliberte 2020, Leung 2018). The paper wishes to explore the manifestation of the Lay practice of Tibetan tradition in the Han sphere, arguing that the development ofLay Chinese Devotees of Tibetan Buddhism Groups reflects the innovations, limitations, and significance of religion in modern Chinese society. 

The paper examines a lay group in the name: “The Mountain Retreat of Incense Offering” (Yanhuo shanfang 烟火山房( active in Shanghai, which comprises of followers of Nyingmapa tradition (ningmapai 宁嘛派). The study discusses the Tibetan Buddhist Revitalization from two aspects. 1. The connection of the Contemporary Lay Buddhism in the Nyingmapa tradition to materialism and wealth (Yu 2012). 2. The manifestation of Lay Buddhism as an ambiguous legal practice in the Communist People’s Republic of China (Ji Zhe 2008, Yang, 2005). Exploring the practice of the group, the study shows how these two aspects are intertwined through modalities such as cyber forms of group practice and group business operations. 


Dessi Vendova, Postdoctoral Fellow in East Asian Art and Religion at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley

“Chinese Vinaya texts in aid to the study of early Buddhist monuments and image practices”   



Vinaya texts by early Buddhist schools preserved in Chinese translation contain valuable wealth of information that remains largely unknown to and underutilized by scholars of early Buddhist art and architecture. With very few exceptions, these useful texts have not received much notice by scholars. In this presentation I will give several examples where early Vinaya texts can be very useful in the study of early Buddhist monuments such as stupas and cave temples. I will also touch upon what Vinaya texts can tell us about the image of the “Pensive Crown Prince” (siwei taizi思維太子), an image especially popular in Central Asia and China and related to the cult of Buddha Shakyamuni. Several passages from Vinaya texts of the Sarvastivadinsand the Mūlasarvāstivādinsshed important light for the more accurate understanding of this iconographic phenomenon, and explain the reasons for its lasting and transregional popularity.


Minhao Zhai, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion, Princeton University


“Engaging with the Body: Paradigms of Utilizing Talismanic Objects in Medieval China” Abstract:

Talismans were made for people to deal with their everyday hopes and troubles in medieval China (3rd-10th centuries). How to deploy these consecrated objects properly remains a grave concern in medieval minds. Crossing through the artificial boundaries between different medieval religious traditions, this paper summarizes different paradigms of applying talismans by focusing on their relationship to the human body. I argue that three major paradigms, i.e. medicalized, armorized, and projectilized, cover most applications of talismans in medieval Chinese life. By arranging talismanic objects in accordance with these paradigms, the paper reveals that besides the making process of talismans, their power and efficacy are also gained during their contact with the users when being used.

For the 2017 SSCR at the AAR roundtable, we had a large number of high quality submissions, and we saw a tremendous amount of exciting work conducted by emerging scholars. 

Scholar Noga Gagany
Noga Ganany, Boston University


Scholar Xiaoxuan Wang

Xiaoxuan Wang, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity


Scholar Lin Hsin-y
Lin Hsin-yi, Columbia University


Scholar Daniel Murray
Daniel Murray, McGill University


Scholar Cody Bahir
Cody Bahir, University of California, Berkeley


Scholar Jingyu Liu
Jingyu Liu, Harvard University