Paul Copp

Paul Copp, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in Chinese Religion and Thought, East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Director of Graduate Studies
Wieboldt 301G
Teaching and Research Interests: 

Intellectual, material, and visual cultures of Chinese religion, ca. 700-1200; paleography and art of Dunhuang and the eastern silk roads; Chinese traditions of self-cultivation.

My research focuses on the history of religious practice in China during the eighth through the twelfth centuries. In particular, I study material sources (manuscripts, amulets, seals, archaeological sites, etc) for the practices of Chinese Buddhism in this period. More recently, I have sought to broaden my work by beginning to study the histories of Manichaeism and Christianity at Dunhuang and Turfan, key sites on the eastern “silk roads.” In general, I have a strong interest in exploring premodern China in its broader eastern Eurasian contexts.

My graduate seminars focus on the philological close reading of texts in their historical (and, whenever possible, material) contexts, on methods for the use of manuscripts and archaeological remains in the study of pre-modern religious practice, as well as on critical engagement with the fields of Sinology and the History of Religions.

My first book, The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism is a study of the nature and history of Buddhist incantatory and amuletic practices in Tang China centered in archaeological evidence. At present, my main project is a paleographical and material-historical study of the worlds of anonymous ninth and tenth century Chinese Buddhists whose practices, ritual and scribal, are evidenced by manuscript handbooks and liturgies discovered among the cache of materials from Dunhuang. Its working title is “Seal and Scroll: Buddhism and Manuscript Culture at Dunhuang.”

Selected Publications: 
  • The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism. (Columbia University Press, 2014)
  • “Manuscript Culture as Ritual Culture in Late Medieval Dunhuang: Buddhist Seals and Their Manuals.” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 20 (2012)
  • “Anointing Phrases and Narrative Power: A Tang Buddhist Poetics of Incantation.” History of Religions 52.2 (2012).
  • "Esoteric Buddhism in Song Dynasty Sichuan," "Dhāraṇī Scriptures," "Prajña (744 - ca. 810)," and "Visualization and Contemplation," in Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia, ed. Charles Orzech, et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
  • "Altar, Amulet, Icon: Transformations in Dhāraṇī Amulet Culture, 740-980." Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 17 (2008 [published 2010]): 239-264.
  • "Notes on the Term 'Dhāraṇī' in Medieval Chinese Buddhist Thought." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 71, 3 (2008), 493–508.

Graduate Seminars:

  • Readings in Chinese Buddhist Texts
  • Readings in Chinese Religious Texts
  • Chinese Religion Seminar
  • Dunhuang and Turfan Studies
  • Sources and Methods in the Study of Chinese Buddhism

Undergraduate Courses

  • Self-Cultivation and the Way in Traditional China
  • China and the Eastern Silk Road
  • Foundations of Chinese Buddhism
  • Daoism and Chinese Religion