Department of Religious Studies

Historian and anthropologist discusses ritual in China

Mon, March 31, 2008

A sacred site shared among different groups may have parallel rituals, focusing on different parts of the site, and grounded on different notions of sanctity. The rituals, with the help of the myths they refer to, may spell out the different identities of the groups and at the same time establish some basis for their co-operation or at least coexistence. This illustrated lecture is based on ongoing study of the region surrounding Huanglong (“Yellow Dragon”), a UNESCO World Nature Heritage reserve in Aba Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province. It first examines parallel rituals performed there by Tibetans and Han Chinese for centuries, paying special attention to the effects of co-use on sacred space. Then it considers the interaction of revived pilgrim activity by both ethnic groups in the reform period (1978-present) with mass tourism and state-promoted environmentalism. This case suggests the conditions of ritual co-use of such a site by several groups, and exposes the methods applied by particular agents in the redefinition and recreation of sacred space, as of their own relationships in the process. Both the historical and ethnographic work has been supported by collaborative grants from the NEH.

Donald Sutton is a China historian working at the juncture of history and anthropology. Besides early studies of the origins of 20th century warlordism, he has mostly focused on ritual or folk religion, seen in a variety of contexts. He has published books and articles on two subfields: religious and social change in 20th century Taiwan, and late imperial social relations explored through religion, and is collecting some of the articles for a book on ritual in Chinese societies.

This lecture will take place on April 17 at 1 PM in the Meyerson Conference Room, WCH 4.118. This lecture is free and open to the public.

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