Dec 11, 2013

"Forgotten Texts found in Far-flung Collections: Vernacular Palm-Leaf and Mulberry Paper manuscripts found in Buddhist Monasteries in Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Libraries in Ireland, Japan, and Italy"

Justin McDaniel, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania

There are over 35,000 palm-leaf Buddhist manuscripts from Laos, Thailand, and the Shan States that have never been read by scholars. Although there have been some efforts to catalog and digitize these manuscripts, their content and physical features have largely been ignored. There are a number of reasons for this including a tendency for Buddhist Studies scholars to focus on canonical texts in classical languages thereby avoiding the study of vernacular Buddhist literature and non-orthodox genres of astrological, magical, grammatical, and narrative texts. In this brief introduction, I will provide an overview of these collections, discuss their material, means of production, exegetical features, and discuss their ritual, performative, and liturgical uses from 1500 to the present. Time permitting, I will also highlight some of the new discoveries regarding illuminated mulberry paper manuscripts I recently uncovered in Thai and Lao collections in Ireland, Italy, Japan, and the U.S.

Dr. Justin McDaniel received his PhD from Harvard University’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies in 2003. Presently he is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research foci include Lao, Thai, Pali and Sanskrit literature, Southeast Asian Buddhism, ritual studies, manuscript studies, and Southeast Asian history. His first book is on the history of Buddhist monastic education in Laos and Thailand, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008). It won the Harry Benda Prize from the Association of Asian Studies for the best first book in Southeast Asian Studies (2008-2009). His second book is a study on material culture and ritual in Thai Buddhism: The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magic Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Thailand (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011). It won the Kahin Prize for best book by a senior scholar in Southeast Asian Studies. His recent publications appear in the Bulletin l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (Études thématiques), Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Aséanie, Journal of Religion and Film, Material Religion, Manusya, and the Journal of the Siam Society, as well as contributions to collected articles on Buddhism and Modernity, Pali literature, Palm-leaf Manuscript research, and liturgical studies. He recently finished a book on modern Buddhist architecture while a Guggenheim Fellow.

For current Yale SEAS Seminars and Events calendar, see: