Relic Theft and Sacred Space in Medieval Japan: Enshrinements of the Buddha’s Body a Study of Texts and Objects
Dissertation Jan. 20th, 2021.pdf (7.000Mb)
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Cross, Julia Heather
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CitationCross, Julia Heather. 2020. Relic Theft and Sacred Space in Medieval Japan: Enshrinements of the Buddha’s Body a Study of Texts and Objects. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines relic worship (i.e., worship of the bones of the historical Buddha) in thirteenth through fifteenth-century Japan. Through material objects and manuscripts, it shows that relic worship during this period often combined various religious traditions into one reliquary and relic ritual. This project is inspired by one question in particular: how can we understand the complexities of medieval reliquaries within the Japanese religious landscape? I answer this by focusing on three important temples taken here as case studies. Using reliquaries and relic related art, this project looks at reliquaries in the context of the textual sources and art that exist from this time. Many of the reliquaries examined in this dissertation are little-studied national treasures from Japan's medieval period, currently housed in the Nara National Museum, in Nara, Japan.
In regards to female monastics and relics, this period marked the first instance of relics magically appearing at nunneries in vast numbers. These new appearances, I argue, helped to create a differently gendered religious geography by linking certain landscapes and peoples—e.g., nunneries, female monastics, and female courtiers—to this Buddhist world of real and imagined relics. This change in the ownership of relics empowered nuns in ways that were unprecedented in Japanese religious history, while granting peripheral temples and female monastics a promise of salvation in a period when the Buddha’s teachings were thought to be nearly lost (i.e., mappō). This study examines these histories of religion, society, thought, and gender dynamics through the prism of relics and their worship.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37369491
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