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Colloquium on Asian religions | Liturgical Images and the Entextualization of Ritual Discourse

When:Mo 26-10-2015 16:00 - 17:30
Where:Oude Boteringestraat 38, Court Room
Dr. Neil Schmid, Royal Asiatic Society China

The Mogao Caves, an archaeological site along the Silk Road in Northwest China, offer a wealth of images, texts, and objects elucidating religious life in the medieval period. This Buddhist site, also known as Dunhuang, contains hundreds of painted caves as elite and family shrines dating from the 5th to 13th century, a dominating feature of which are large murals known as "transformation tableaux" (bianxiang 變相) or “sutra transformations” jingbian 經變). Each tableau, a depiction of a specific Buddhist sutra, functions simultaneously as a visual exegesis of that scripture, a donor good, an object of worship, and as a soteriological destination. Furthermore, as a Buddhist scripture, each image-text is also a speech event defining ritual space, both within the image and exterior to it in the setting of the cave-shrine. This talk investigates the mulitvocality of these votive objects through the lens of entextualization, a concept developed in linguistic anthropology that foregrounds how discourse is extracted from contexts and reified for reiteration in alternative settings. Entextualization is a particularly useful lens because it underscores the movement and performative continuity between speech, text, and visual/material objects inclusive of their ritual and soteriological uses. In particular, we will examine how these Buddhist image-texts employ parallelism, shifts in scale, the use of framing, and the transposition of agents and participants to achieve a level of material seduction and symbolic efficacy across multiple and highly diverse contexts.