China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The panel brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars employing a range of visual and textual sources in order to highlight Buddhist interactions with royal authority between the Central Plains, the Silk Road, and beyond. Centering predominantly on the rich trove of materials located at the borderlands of the Tang empire, the panel seeks to understand the complex interplay between Buddhism and rulership. The panel draws inspiration from Jörg Rüpke’s book, From Jupiter to Christ: On the History of Religion in the Roman Imperial Period (Oxford 2014) in which he asked the question: “How Does Empire Change Religion, and How does Religion Change an Empire?” With this in mind, how did political rulers influence Buddhist thought and practice? In what ways did Buddhist practices and doctrine affect the political realm? By utilizing methodologies from both religious studies and art history, the panel seeks to shed new light on these questions. The three papers will examine interactions between the religious sphere and the political sphere while recognizing that they were never entirely separate realms to begin with. April D. Hughes investigates the substantial importance placed on Buddhist rulership by practitioners particularly when visualizing the terrestrial utopia of Maitreya Buddha. Michelle C. Wang demonstrates how an examination of Mahāmayūrī paintings can reveal the connections between localized iconography and Buddhist statesmanship on the Silk Road. Megan Bryson seeks to understand some of the ways that Buddhist scriptures and images played a vital role in legitimating and exalting rulers of the Dali kingdom.