Paul Copp

Paul Copp, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in Chinese Religion and Thought, East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Director of Undergraduate Studies for 2019-20
Wieboldt 301G
Teaching and Research Interests: 

Intellectual, material, and visual cultures of Chinese religion, ca. 700-1200; manuscripts 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 to the thirteenth centuries. I’m most interested in the study of visual and material sources, especially of the manuscripts, xylographs, and objects of personal religious practice (such as amulets and seals) discovered at the “silk road” sites of Dunhuang, Turfan, and Khara-khoto, as well as in tombs from across the region.

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. I am currently writing two books centered in different ways in the study of religious seals in China. The first, tentatively called “The Ritualist’s Seal: Metaphor and Material Culture in Chinese Religion,” studies seals in Chinese religious practice both for what they show about Chinese religious history, and as a case study of the nature of “material religion” more broadly. Part of this project can be seen in my recent article “Seals as Conceptual and Ritual Tools in Chinese Buddhism, ca. 700-1000, CE.” The second book is a paleographic and material-historical study of the worlds of anonymous ninth and tenth century Chinese Buddhists, evidenced by manuscript handbooks and liturgies from Dunhuang. Its working title is “Seal and Scroll: Manuscripts and the Ritualist’s Craft at Dunhuang.” Something of what I do here can be sampled in my article “Manuscript Culture as Ritual Culture in Late Medieval Dunhuang.”

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.
  •  “Writing Buddhist Liturgies at Dunhuang: Hints of Ritualist Craft,” forthcoming in Language and Religion, ed. Robert Yelle, et al. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019), 68-86
  •  “Seals as Conceptual and Ritual Tools in Chinese Buddhism, ca. 700-1000, CE,” The Medieval Globe 4.1 (2018), 15-48.
  • 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.

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