Esoteric Networks: Transregional Buddhism in the Dali Kingdom


ACLS Fellowship Program


Religious Studies


The Dali kingdom from 937-1253 in what is now southwest China was a hub in a religious network extending to the neighboring regions of Song China, Tibet, India, and Southeast Asia. Esoteric (or Tantric) Buddhism was a politico-religious system that these regions had in common. This project shows how Buddhism circulated beyond the confines of regional traditions by tracing how esoteric Buddhist texts, images, and objects entered the Dali kingdom. It uses network theory to understand both the documented networks that consist of textual, visual, and archaeological records and the ways in which Dali-kingdom Buddhists represented the networks that brought these materials to the region. It argues that these two kinds of networks must be mapped in relation to each other to understand esoteric Buddhism in transregional perspective.