NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers

An Introduction to Daoist Literature and History


Have you ever wondered what sort of treasures lie lurking in the dusty tomes of the Daoist Canon? Pondered how to track down that Daoist term in the poem you were translating? Or puzzled over the role of Daoist figures in the imperial court?   How to decipher a multi-day Offering ritual that brings in all the religious professionals of the community?  Why the Yao and other ethnic minorities of South China have adopted Daoism without taking on Chinese identity?   If so, or if you would just like to expand your scholarly horizons, please join us in Boulder next summer for a stimulating introduction to the texts and the history of religious Daoism 道教, China’s indigenous institutionalized religion.   We will spend three weeks in intense reading sessions, systematically surveying a wide range of Daoist scriptures, liturgies, precept lists, and hagiographies from the remnants of the earliest Celestial Master communities in the second century C.E. to modern works.  Our goal is to familiarize seminar participants with the wide variety of Daoist literature in canonical and extra-canonical collections, and to give them the basic skills to read and evaluate Daoist documents, so that they can integrate Daoism materials into their research and teaching.

The seminar will be conducted over three weeks, July 18 to August 5, on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.  After a general introduction to the history of the religion and resources available for its study, the seminar will focus on close reading of a series of foundational works for the understanding of the historical origin and development of the Daoist religion.  Readings will draw heavily upon the critical first few centuries of Daoist history, when the major scriptural traditions were forming, but will treat sources from all periods, including scriptures still in regular use today.  We will introduce a variety of genres of literature, from divine revelations to liturgies, cosmologies, ordination documents, inspired poetry, demonologies, hagiographies, and sacred geographies.  Supplementary presentations will discuss the historical background of these developments and the material culture that informed them.  Our goal will be two-fold: To familiarize seminar participants with the wide variety of Daoist literature in canonical and extra-canonical collections, and to give them the basic skills to read and evaluate Daoist documents.

Your guides will be senior scholars of Daoism who have read and written about Daoist texts for many years.  The co-directors will be Stephen R. Bokenkamp of Arizona State University and Terry F. Kleeman of our host, the University of Colorado.  Both are among the very small group of scholars who have published academic translations of Daoist scriptures, and both have more than twenty years of experience training graduate students in Daoism.  To cover adequately the broad range of texts in our chrestomathy, we will bring in as consultants two foreign experts, Dr. CHANG Chaojan 張超然 of Fu Jen University (Taiwan) and Dr. MARUYAMA Hiroshi 丸山宏 of Tsukuba University (Japan).   Both combine extensive fieldwork with a deep familiarity with Daoist texts.

  The scholars we will invite to join us will be both experienced and new researchers who want to know more about Daoism and are prepared to participate actively in three weeks of intense immersion into the world of Daoist texts.  We will take appropriate breaks and your weekends will be free, but we will spend the great majority of each day, five days a week, in a circle, reading together and discussing a wide swath of Daoist literature.  You will need to be competent in literary Chinese, since our texts are largely unpunctuated—some hand-written—and reference works are few.  You need not have any background in Daoism at all, but you will have to convince us that you want to integrate it into your future work.  We are able to accept sixteen Summer Scholars for this seminar; most must be faculty teaching in an American college or university, but we are able to accept up to two advanced graduate students.  You also must be an American citizen or resident in the U.S. for the last three years (see for details).  To apply, see the instructions on the Applying page.

N.B.: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.