Stephen F. Teiser, Faculty Author Q&A: on “Ritual and the Study of Buddhism”

Nov. 2, 2022

Stephen F. Teiser is the D.T. Suzuki Professor in Buddhist Studies and Professor of Religion. He is also an Old Dominion Research Professor in the Humanities Council for 2022-23. His book, “Ritual and the Study of Buddhism (in Chinese: Yili yu fojiao yanjiu 礼与佛教研究)” was published in January 2022 by Sanlian Publishing House.

How did you get the idea for this project?

This project synthesizes some of the disciplines I’ve been pursuing for the past couple of decades: social history, Buddhist ritual, and Chinese language. For the format—a book addressed to Chinese readers—I’m indebted to my colleagues at Fudan University, where I delivered a series of lectures in Chinese in 2014.

How has your project developed or changed throughout the research and writing process?

As I was lecturing in Shanghai, I realized I had to address the presuppositions of my audience. These are things we English-speakers don’t consider very deeply when we write in our native tongue or talk with our colleagues from home. This led to two unplanned chapters. One chapter emphasizes the importance of the Indian (specifically: non-Chinese) aspects of Buddhism—even as Buddhism was articulated in China over a period of two thousand years. The other unanticipated chapter introduces key features of the modern humanistic study of religion, a scholarly discipline that’s still foreign to Chinese academia.

What questions for future investigation has the project sparked?

More rituals, more Buddhism, more Chinese language.

Why should people read this book?

Hopefully, through the concatenation of approaches usually kept distinct, the book offers new insights into basic Buddhist rituals concerning life and death. And for Chinese readers in particular, it’s a helpful introduction to the academic study of religion.