SOAS University of London

Centre of Taiwan Studies

Picturing History: Models of Cross-strait Lineage Construction for Taiwanese Buddhism

Stefania Travagnin
Speaker: Dr. Stefania Travagnin, University of Groningen

Date: 5 March 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 5 March 2015Time: 9:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 116

Type of Event: Seminar


A Buddhist monastery is a structure of several buildings, some more visible and visited than others. The less visible buildings, this research argues, offer crucial data on the micro-history of the resident community. The Fuhui Pagoda (fuhui tayuan 福慧塔院) is one of those less visible and less visited parts of the Fuyan complex in Xinzhu, but the study of its configuration and development are essential to better understand how the Fuyan monastic community is creating its own retrospective micro-history. That micro-history then becomes a core agent in unwrapping and disclosing the contextual macro-history.

This paper will propose a study of the Fuhui Pagoda that draws on concepts such as discursive identity, religious authority, and the visual making of a cross-strait lineage.

A Buddhist pagoda is important because it contributes to ‘historicize’ religious figures. The ‘historicized’ figures that we find in the Fuhui Pagoda are faces and voices of the new Taiwanese Buddhism, they constitute a new retrospective lineage that is challenged by cross-strait relations and the effect of the Japanese colonial period. Therefore, the Fuhui Pagoda is the attempt of a Taiwanese community to re-elaborate its history and lineage within the macro-context of East Asian Buddhism.

This sacred place is a centre of rituals, proposes precise dispositions of portraits, and is decorated not just with flowers and incense but with verses as well. Ceremonies, arrangements of icons and written messages frame patterns and identity of a lineage, a school, and a tradition. The interlocking between written texts, visual culture and performative practices that takes place within the pagoda leads to the question of how discursive identity and religious authority are constructed and enacted.

Speaker's Bio

Stefania Travagnin is Assistant Professor of Religion in Asia, and Director of the newly established Centre for the Study of Religion and Culture in Asia in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. The Centre offers a venue for scholars from various institutions in the world to exchange views, combine different methodologies and approaches, revise and innovate theories and methods in the field, and contribute to produce interdisciplinary academic scholarship. Within the Centre, Dr. Travagnin coordinates three research projects: Textuality in East Asian Buddhism; Religion and Media in East Asia (in association with Dr. Erica Baffelli, University of Manchester); and Critical Methods and Concepts for the Study of Religion in Modern China (in association with Dr. Scott Pacey, University of Nottingham).
Dr. Travagnin holds a BA and MA in Chinese Studies from Ca’Foscari University (Venice, Italy), and a PhD in the Study of Religions from SOAS; she has been visiting scholar at the Center for Chinese Studies of the National Central Library and at the Institute of History and Philology of Academia Sinica in Taipei, has extensive fieldwork experience within several Buddhist communities in East Asia, and has previously taught at the University of London (SOAS and Goldsmiths College), University of Missouri, University of Saskatchewan, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Manchester.

Dr. Travagnin’s interdisciplinary research explores different levels and forms of engagement between religion – especially Buddhism – and modernity in Chinese and Taiwanese social contexts. Her publications question how modern Buddhist China is re-interpreting and adapting classical scriptures, doctrines, and rituals in light of contemporary ideologies; the intervention of politics into the religious sphere; how Chinese religions participate in the current debate on religious diversity and pluralism; the development of Buddhist education in China and Taiwan; the effects of mediated religions and religious media including cyber-Buddhist activities.

Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies

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