Marveling at the Dharma: The Aesthetics of Wonder in the Medieval Chinese Cult of the Lotus Sutra


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


Religious Studies


This project investigates the important roles of emotion in the early propagation of Buddhism in medieval China, from the fifth to ninth centuries CE. Focusing on the popular Lotus Sutra and the textual and material productions of its nascent Chinese cult, it shows how Buddhist media aimed to excite feelings of wonder in its Chinese audiences and explicitly discussed the religious value of such emotions. While traditional scholarship on early Chinese Buddhism has attributed its flourishing to the Chinese interpretation of Indian Buddhist concepts, this project demonstrates that Buddhist propagation relied at least as much on appeals to strong emotion. Through its aesthetics of wonder, the medieval Chinese cult of the Lotus Sutra helped to establish this foreign religion's resonance for its new audience.