Paul Copp, Ph.D.

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Director of Undergraduate Studies; Associate Professor in Chinese Religion and Thought, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Wieboldt 301G
Office Hours: Professor Copp will have office hours by appointment only in the Spring quarter, either in-person or virtually.
773.834.1689
Research Interests: Intellectual, material, and visual cultures of China and eastern Central Asia, ca. 700-1200 (or so); What should a Humanities education be, today?

Biography

My first book, The Body Incantatory, a revision and expansion of the dissertation I wrote at Princeton, is a study of Buddhist incantation and amulet practices in Tang China, centered in both textual and archaeological evidence. I am currently writing two books. The first, tentatively titled “The Ritualist’s Seal: Object, Practice, and Knowledge in China,” is an exploration of stamp seals in Chinese religious practice from the Eastern Han into the Northern Song (that is, roughly the first millennium CE). Seals are interesting to me because of the ways they so clearly intertwine conceptual thought, bodily practice, and material object—objects and their bodily logics are in the mind, when thinking about seals, and the mind’s ways are in the body, when stamping them. Because of this, the study of religious seals demands, even more than most things, an attentive interdisciplinarity. Small parts of this project can be seen in two recent articles: “Seals as Conceptual and Ritual Tools in Chinese Buddhism, ca. 700-1000, CE,” and “Deity Seals and the Securing of the Grave in Eastern Han China.” The second book is a paleographic and material-historical study of the worlds of anonymous vernacular Buddhist ritual practitioners across continental eastern Asia. It is centered on ninth and tenth century manuscript handbooks and liturgies from Dunhuang, a key site on the eastern “silk roads,” but it explores a much broader history and geographical region. Its working title is “Manuscript, Print, and the Ritualist’s Craft at Dunhuang and Beyond.” Something of what I do here can be sampled in my articles “Manuscript Culture as Ritual Culture in Late Medieval Dunhuang,” and “Writing Buddhist Liturgies at Dunhuang: Hints of Ritualist Craft.”

Recently, too, I have tried to find ways to let my extracurricular work as a volunteer naturalist in the county forest preserves, and my devotion to environmental stewardship, carry over into my academic work. So far, it has shaped my teaching in the College, where whenever possible I raise concerns from the “environmental humanities,” and I am slowly working on studies in Chinese intellectual history in this general vein, all at this point TBA.

Selected Publications

  • “Deity Seals and the Securing of the Grave in Eastern Han China,” forthcoming in an Oriental Institute series volume titled Sealing Theories and Practices, edited by Delphine Poinsot.
  • Dhāraṇī and Mantra in Ritual, Art, and Text. Special issue of the International Journal of Buddhist Thought & Culture (30.2), co-edited with Youn-mi Kim. December, 2020.
  • “Guest Editor’s Introduction: Dhāraṇī and Mantra in Ritual, Art, and Text,” International Journal of Buddhist Thought & Culture 30.2 (2020), 7-16.
  •  Refiguring East Asian Religious Art: Buddhist Devotion and Funerary Practice, a volume co-edited with Wu Hung, Art Media Resources, 2019
  •  “The Material of East Asian Religions: A View from Buddhist Studies,” in Refiguring East Asian Religious Art: Buddhist Devotion and Funerary Practice, ed. Wu Hung and Paul Copp (Art Media Resources, 2019), 309-315.
  •  “Writing Buddhist Liturgies at Dunhuang: Hints of Ritualist Craft,” 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.

Courses

Graduate Seminars:

  •  Readings in Chinese Religious Texts
  •  Dunhuang Studies
  •  Manuscripts, Material Culture, and Ritual Practice
  •  Sources and Methods in the Study of Premodern Chinese Religion

College Courses

  • Nature & Dao: “Environmental Humanities” in Premodern China and Today
  • Self-Cultivation and the Way in Traditional China
  • Dunhuang and the Silk Roads
  • Themes in Traditional Chinese Thought

Publications