The animal in the Asian imagination: alter or alter ego?

Christine Vial Kayser's picture
Call for Papers
January 13, 2023 to January 14, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Asian History / Studies


The animal in the Asian imagination: alter or alter ego?

International colloquium organized by the Asia-Sorbonne Association, January 13 and 14, 2023.


Junishi, Sino-Japanese Zodiac


This colloquium proposes to explore the polysemy of the imaginary of the animal, especially the wild animal, in Asia and its functions: is it an "alter ego", a protective animal, bringing to humanity its own powers, or a radical "alter", which represents a world other than humanity; what are the stakes of these various representations for humanity as for the sharing of the planet with the animal world. This alter function is manifested, for example, in the tiger, whose power is appropriated by man in the "lion" dance (舞狮 / 舞獅; wǔshī), in traditional medicine that takes its bones, and in the Chinese zodiac for which it is one of the strongest signs. It is also found in its presence as the soldier's animal double in Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee", or as the protective animal of a Dalit in the novel The White Tiger by Indian Aravind Adiga. One also thinks of the Nāga snake, both a symbol - chtonian and aquatic -, retaining the real, naturalistic attributes of the animal in its various representations. It seems to us that if man symbolically acquires the power of the animal, it is on condition that he remains beyond a real or metaphorical man/animal boundary.

This physical boundary between man and animal is being crossed more and more frequently, notably through poaching, posing serious health risks for humanity, as demonstrated by the Covid pandemic. In this context, it seems useful to us to explore this tangential relationship and the stakes of this distancing or, on the contrary, of this coexistence with the wild animal - as well as potentially with the domestic animal in its dimension of otherness (for example, the sacred cow in Hinduism). It is postulated that the animal - bear, monkey, tiger, fox, snake - is invested with a radical, necessary otherness. Its total domestication or anthropomorphization would represent a danger, a loss of meaning. Faced with the disappearance of primary spaces and non-modernised peoples, the wild animal seems to be the ultimate reservoir of the anti-modern, of that which escapes the Anthropocene, that which is not "for" humanity. We therefore make two interlocking hypotheses: that animal representations in traditional cultures insist on the otherness of the animal, and that this has the function of a warning: that by trying too hard to domesticate the wild, humanity will lose a source of otherness that is essential to its physiological, but also spiritual survival.

This exploration will use literary, religious, artistic (all mediums), naturalistic, symbolic or fantastic representations: the modalities, the ambiguities, the back and forth.

The symposium will be followed by a publication on the review of the final texts by 1923.

Fields: history of representations in art (all media), archaeology, in classical, folk and religious literature and all forms of ancient or contemporary ethnographic representations...

Keywords: wild animal; anthropocene; animal symbolism in Asia; imaginary and iconography of the animal in Asia.

Practicalities :

Send a proposal in the form of a 300-500 word abstract with keywords and a short bibliography (APA format) and a short biography of the author (three lines), with institutional affiliation if applicable to and

Deadline for receipt of abstracts 30 September 2022. Response to participants October 30.

Bibliographic elements :

(all web links active as of June 20, 2022)

  • Ambros, B. (2014, August). Animals in Japanese Buddhism: The third path of existence. Religion Compass, Vol. 8, No. 8. DOI:10.1111/rec3.12118
  • Chapouthier, G. (2009). Réflexions sur l'altérité et l'animalité. Revue philosophique de la France et de l'Étranger, Vol. 134, No. 2, pp. 207216. Https://
  • Diény, J.-P. (1987). Le symbolisme du dragon dans la Chine antique, Vol. XXVII, Collège de France, Institut des Hautes études chinoises, Paris.
  • Ferrari, F. & Thomas Dänhardt, T. (2013). Charming beauties and frightful beasts. Non-human animals in South Asian myth, ritual and folklore, xvii. Equinox Publishing.
  • Glorisun Charitable Foundation (2018). Buddhist beasts: Reflections on animals in Asian religions and culture. Summary of contributions to the eponymous conference.
  • Chircop-Reyes, L. et Loïc Aloisio, L. (2019). L'Éthique animale dans les littératures d'Asie. Impressions d’Extrême-Orient, Vol. 10. Https:// (See also call for papers Https://
  • Keck, F. (2020). Les sentinelles des pandémies : Chasseurs de virus et observateurs d'oiseaux aux frontières de la Chine. (V. Despret, préface). Zones sensibles.
  • Korff-Sausse, S. (2011). Les identifications déshumanisantes : L'animalité dans la vie psychique et la création artistique.  Revue française de psychanalyse, Vol. 75, no. 1, pp. 87102.
  • Le Renard : tours, détours & retours (1984). Études mongoles et sibériennes. Centre d'études mongoles et sibériennes.
  • L’ours : l'Autre de l’homme (1980). Études mongoles et sibériennes. Centre d'études mongoles et sibériennes. See the review in
  • Maris, V. (2018). La Part sauvage du monde. Le Seuil.
  • Morizot, B. (2020). Sauvagerie : des animaux et des hommes. Entretien avec Baptiste Morizot. Dix-huitième siècle, Vol. 1, n° 52, pp. 257–265. Https://
  • Nylan, M. (2019). Humans as animals and things in pre-Buddhist China. Religions, Vol. 10, n° 6. Https://
  • O'Flaherty, W. D. (1981). Sexual metaphors and animal symbols in Indian mythology. Motilal Banarsidass.
  • ------ (1979). Sacred cows and profane pools in Indian mythology. History of Religions, Vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 1–26.
  • Pan, Y. (2020, April). Human-nature relationships in East Asian animated films. Societies, Vol. 10, no. 2, p. 35. Https://
  • Trinquier, J. (2015). Les animaux sauvages ont-ils un territoire ? À propos d’un passage des laudes Italiae (Virgile, Géorgiques II, pp. 151–154). Cahier des études anciennes, vol. II, « Des frontières symboliques ou théoriques à franchir ou à transgresser », pp. 205–229. Https://
  • University of Warsaw (2018). Exhibiting Animals: Curatorial Strategies and Narratives (call for papers). Https ://
  • Seki, K. (Ed.) (1963). Folktales of Japan (R. Adams, trans.). University of Chicago Press.
  • Singer, R. & Masatomo, K. (eds.). The life of animals in Japanese art. [Cat. exp. Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 05.05.-28.07.2019; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 08.09.-08.12.2019]. Princeton University Press; Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art.




Contact Info: 

Scientific council of Asie-Sorbonne Association.