Karil Kucera’s Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhism: Visualizing Enlightenment at Baodingshan from the 12th to 21st Centuries (Cambria Press, 2016) has been published! I have been Karil’s sabbatical replacement here at St. Olaf College for 2015-2016, and it is exciting to see the product of over 20 years of research on the site at Baodingshan in Sichuan Province, China.
Although my research does not focus on Buddhist Art, it remains one of my favorite topics to teach. Students have a natural curiosity about the unification of art and religion outside of the Christian tradition. When I teach sculpture from Dunhuang (China), the Yungang Grottoes (China), Hōryū-ji (Japan), or Hiraizumi (Japan), I want students to understand works not just as singular art objects, but as part of a larger design program that includes other works of sculpture, painting, architecture, and text. These elements work together to define a patron’s experience. With her focus on the visualization of enlightenment, Karil describes the Great Buddha Bend at Baodingshan and the organic and multi-layered inclusion of tenets of Pure Land, Chan (Zen), Huayan, and Esoteric Buddhism.
The book is accompanied by a bilingual website, http://www.baodingshan.org, that serves as an excellent teaching resource. The “interactive tour” under the “in the classroom” section, in addition to the maps and walking tour are all particularly useful for scholars who want to teach this material with an awareness of spatial context. The challenge the art historian has, regardless of topic, is transporting students to the site–either physically or in the realm of the mind. By using these tools, students can develop an understanding of Baodingshan by traversing the geography of the physical site in digital space.
And for me, the website published alongside her book raises the importance of these kinds of digital accompaniments as a way to mitigate the limitations of academic publishing in a field so dependent on images.