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Asuka Sango
Carleton College (Northfield, MN 55057-4044)
Debate in the Buddhist Monasteries of Medieval Japan

Research and writing leading to publication of a book on the role of debate among Buddhist monks in shaping medieval Japanese culture.

This project examines the role of Buddhist monastic debate (rongi) in shaping the intellectual, religious, and cultural contours of medieval Japan from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. Since participating in debates was an official requirement for monks’ promotion, both medieval critics and modern scholars have dismissed them as a tool of self-aggrandizement. However, by examining the lives of the intellectual giants, their famous debates, and the largely unnoticed “behind-the-stage” moments of regular scholar monks (e.g., daily training in debate skills and doctrinal learning), my book argues that the debate skills that these monks developed were not only a means of social advancement, but also a dynamic mode of internalizing and producing doctrinal knowledge and contesting its established interpretation. Thus my project challenges a popular conception of Buddhism as more experientially rooted and reveals the largely neglected, scholastic dimension of Japanese Buddhism.

Project fields:
East Asian Studies; History of Religion; Nonwestern Religion

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
4/1/2016 – 3/31/2017