Graduate International Colloquium

Materializing Sanctity, Enacting Authority: Text, Image, and Performance in China & India

All sessions are held at the Watson Institute unless otherwise noted.  The public lectures are free and open to the public, no reservation required.  If you are interested in attending the other sessions please email to RSVP.  Please note, the session at the RISD Museum is not open to the public.


The lectures and workshops of this colloquium aim to trace the various ways that sanctity and authority were materialized in pre-modern Asia, drawing widely from Chinese and Indian cultural contexts.  From tales recounting the adventures of the Buddha's past lives, to texts debating cosmological principles of yin and yang, to poetic reflections on sovereignty, the religio-cultural worlds of India and China are richly storied.  By intertwining popular narrative, philosophy, and normative instruction, these multifaceted traditions problematize the boundaries of conventional literary genres. However, these bodies of knowledge are not just static symbols on the bamboo scroll or palm-leaf page.  Rather, they are enacted and enlivened through dramatic performance and artistic representations, which amplify, illuminate and question lessons from the textual sources.  In this way, conceptions of sanctity and religious authority are constructed, multiplied, and materialized through the imbrication of literary, material, and visual cultures.

This colloquium is generously sponsored by the Graduate International Colloquium Fund, India Initiative, China Initiative, and the Departments of Religious Studies, Classics, and History of Art and Architecture.


Day 1 (March 14th)

9:00-9:30am Coffee and Welcome

9:30-10:00am State of the Field: Asia Across the Disciplines

10:00-11:15am Manuscript Culture of Asia: Authority and Ideals of Kingship
(Led by Prof. Adheesh Sathaye, University of British Columbia & Prof. Sarah Allan, Dartmouth)

11:15-11:30am Coffee Break

11:30-1:00pm Epigraphy & Paleography: Media and Meanings
(Led by Prof. Adam Smith, University of Pennsylvania; Prof. Sarah Allan, Dartmouth; Prof. Tamara Sears, Yale University)

1:00-2:00pm Lunch

2:00-3:15pm Performance & Narrative
(Led by Prof. Adheesh Sathaye, University of British Columbia; and Prof. David Buchta, Brown University)

3:15-3:30pm Coffee Break

3:30-4:45pm Sanctified Spaces: Monumental Places and the Construction of Authority
(Led by Prof. Tamara Sears, Yale University & Prof. Padma Kaimal, Colgate University)

5:00-6:00pm Public Lecture: "How to Become a Brahmin and Get Away With it: The Social Power of Hindu Mythology" (Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute)

(Prof. Adheesh Sathaye, University of British Columbia)

One of the most well-known features of classical Hindu thought is that it is impossible for an ordinary individual to change one's caste.  But in the Sanskrit epics, the mythological sage, Viśvāmitra is said to have done exactly that - to have become a Brahmin by amassing a tremendous amount of acsetic power, or tapas. This presentation will examine how stories about Viśvāmitra in the Sanskrit epics would have served to establish the social idenity of real-world Brahmins for an early Indian public culture.  

6:00pm: Reception

Day 2 (March 15th)

8:30-9:00am Coffee

9:00-10:00am 'Reading' Asian Art: Techniques & Strategies
(Prof. Anne Chen, Brown University)

11:00-1:00pm Group Visit and Discussion of RISD Museum Collection
(not open to the public) 

1:00-2:00pm The Politics of Asian Material Culture
(Prof. Adam Smith, University of Pennsylvania; Prof. Padma Kaimal, Colgate University; and Prof. Jeffrey Moser, Brown University) Brown bag lunch session.

2:00-2:15pm Short Break

2:15-3:15pm Public Lecture: "Daoist Use of Images in Private and Public Contexts"
(Birkelund Boardroom, Watson Institute)
(Prof. Susan Huang, Rice University)

This talk will elaborate the key concept of Daoist visual culture: the polarization of private/inner (nei) and public/outer (wai) images and the interconnectivity and tension between the two.  The pictures associated with the private use or the inner system refer to the mental images generated in visualization as well as the artifacts made to correspond to such internal experiences.  The images associated with the public function or the outer system cover the mutimedia materiality tied to the physical rituals and encompass liturgical paintings, ritual space, ritual artifacts, and the mobile spectacle of ritual performance.  From a theoretical perspective, this talk will also propose three modes of images central to Daoist symbolism: aniconic, immaterial/invisible, and ephemeral.   

3:30-4:00pm Concluding Roundtable Discussion


Elizabeth A. Cecil, Adrien Stoloff, Samuel Goldstein (Religious Studies - Asian Religious Traditions Track); Justin E. Byrd, E. Perot Bissell (Classics - Sanskrit); Amy Huang (Art History)