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Recentering Buddhist Cosmology: Concepts of Geographic Space in Ritual and Art

Date & Time:
November 3, 2017 | 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
SS 541
Eric Huntington studies the relationships between visual art, ritual, and philosophy in the Buddhist traditions of Tibet, Nepal, and India. His current book examines depictions of the cosmos, revealing ways in which cosmological thinking has been an underappreciated foundation for many aspects of religious life. Huntington also works on other topics of religion and material culture, including the role of illustration in Buddhist manuscripts and the nature of embodiment in consecrated images. Prior to joining the Stanford community, he served as a Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University and received a PhD from the University of Chicago.

One of the most common functions of religion is cosmology—explaining the origin, structure, and rules of the world in which we live. While scholars often study religious cosmology through literature, its true significance can only be understood by looking beyond texts to rituals, artwork, and architecture. In these forms, Buddhist traditions employ cosmological thinking in a wide variety of ways, from generating simple offerings to establishing the most esoteric meditations for enlightenment. The cosmic structure thus provides a framework for knowledge and practice far beyond merely modeling the world. This lecture both problematizes the use of textual sources for Indic cosmology and introduces several important examples of alternative cosmological thinking in ritual and artwork from India, Nepal, and Tibet.

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