Paul Copp

Paul Copp, Ph.D. ON LEAVE Winter 2019 and Spring 2019

Associate Professor in Chinese Religion and Thought, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Wieboldt 301G
Teaching and Research Interests: 

Intellectual, material, and visual cultures of Chinese religion, ca. 700-1200; paleography and archaeology of Dunhuang and the eastern “silk roads.”

My research focuses on the history of religious practice in China and eastern Central Asia during the period stretching from the eighth through the thirteenth centuries. I’m most interested in the study of visual and material sources, especially of the manuscripts and xylographs discovered at the “silk road” sites of Dunhuang, Turfan, and Khara-khoto, but also of cave- and cliff-shrines and tombs from across the region. I am also a research associate at the Field Museum of Natural History, where I am (slowly) compiling an analytic catalog of the Laufer collection of Chinese religious statues.

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

My first book, The Body Incantatory, is a study of the nature and history of Buddhist incantation and amulet practices in Tang China centered in archaeological evidence. At present, my main project is a paleographic 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: Manuscripts and the Ritualist’s Craft at Dunhuang and Beyond.”

Selected Publications: 
  •  Refiguring East Asian Religious Art: Buddhist Devotion and Funerary Practice, a volume co-edited with Wu Hung, forthcoming from The University of Chicago Center for the Arts of East Asia.
  •  “The Material of East Asian Religions: A View from Buddhist Studies,” forthcoming in Refiguring East Asian Religious Art: Buddhist Devotion and Funerary Practice, ed. Wu Hung and Paul Copp, UChicago CAEA.
  •  “Seals as Conceptual and Ritual Tools in Chinese Buddhism, ca. 700-1000, CE,” forthcoming in The Medieval Globe 4.2 (Winter 2018).
  •  “Writing Buddhist Liturgies at Dunhuang: Hints of Ritualist Craft,” forthcoming in Language and Religion, ed. Robert Yelle, et al. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018),
  • The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism. (Columbia University Press, 2014; paperback edition, 2018)
  •  “Anointing Phrases and Narrative Power: A Tang Buddhist Poetics of Incantation.” History of Religions 52.2 (2012), 142-172.
  •  “Manuscript Culture as Ritual Culture in Late Medieval Dunhuang: Buddhist Seals and Their Manuals.” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 20 (2011), 193-226.
  •  "Altar, Amulet, Icon: Transformations in Dhāraṇī Amulet Culture, 740-980." Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 17 (2008): 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 Religious Texts
  •  Dunhuang Studies
  •  Manuscripts, Material Culture, and Ritual
  •  Sources and Methods in the Study of Premodern Chinese Religion

College Courses

  • Ethics, Nature, Dao
  • China and the Eastern Silk Road
  • Foundations of Chinese Buddhism
  • Daoism and Chinese Religion