Asie-Sorbonne Workshop: The Tree that Hides the Forest (extended)

Christine Vial Kayser's picture
Call for Papers
August 30, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Asian History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies

Call for papers (extended)


The tree that hides the forest


Workshop organized by the Asie-Sorbonne Association



Hamedine Kane & Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro, The School of Mutants, 2020. Film still. Courtesy of the artists. (Filmed in the forest near the abandoned buildings of the National Taiwan Ocean University Campus in Keelung).


The Asie-Sorbonne Association organizes a two-days’ workshop with the aim of reflecting on the dynamics of the relationship with trees—and beyond, with nature—in East and South Asia by comparison with the West. Our starting point is the Japanese practice of immersion in a forest called Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing” (or sylvotherapy).

The practice which emerged in the 1980s at the same time as the benefits of “green” landscapes was developing in the United States (Wilson 1984), has been examined exclusively from a physiological and psychological point of view by Health Scientists.


We postulate that this practice is part of a paradigmatic relationship with nature that is determined not only by organic factors but also by an imaginary of the tree, memories associated with the landscape, and cultural practices. It has therefore both universal and relative foundations that we feel it is necessary to examine.


In Japan, the practice may have animist (Knight 2009), Shinto (Knight 2010; Rots 2014) or even Buddhist roots. Since the mainland is identifiable with mountain, forest is practically synonymous with mountain, the place of epiphanisation of the spirit. A wood is quite often a sanctuary and considered a hill, a mound or even a mountain even if it is on the plain and not high.

In Korea, Won Sop points to the traditional association of wood, stone and water to explain the health benefits of forest bathing (Won Sop et al. 2010).

In Taiwan holistic indigenous practices see people as part of an interdependent environment, as an Umwelt (Lushan tribe 2018).


The Chinese concept of qi (in Japan ki), i.e. the vital energy shared between man and nature, as well as the specific perception of trees in Chinese (Bao et al. 2016; Escande 2011; Ke 2019) and Japanese philosophy, can be called upon to support this implicit cultural dimension.

The forest as a place of enlightenment is also essential for Buddhists and Jains, and the representation of Yaksha and Yakshini testifies to the role of the tree as a source of life, sometimes ambivalent, in the Indian tradition, where certain tree species are still considered sacred today. Such representations existed in the West before the Industrial revolution, and then in reaction to it, e.g., in the Gothic, and in European Romanticism (Harrison 1992) or in American Transcendentalism (Egerton 2011).


The workshop addresses a double question: How do cultural, artistic, religious, classical or popular, traditional or contemporary practices, as well philosophical/aesthetic theories bear witness to a certain view of the forest; and how do they potentially pre-condition the actual experience of forest immersion? The question will be approached in the context of East and South Asia, or, by comparison, in the West.


Our motivation is not only theoretical. We postulate that in a “post-anthropocene”, ecological perspective, it is necessary to “re-enchant” our relationship to the forest, to the tree, to the soil. Let us cease to look at the tree, its essence, its size, to perceive the forest in which it lives, the clouds, the streams, the animals that surround it, in a holistic way, imbued with a living, poetic dimension that integrates but goes beyond the scientific and naturalistic approach (Latour 2021, 2015; Descola 2005; Alexander 2004).



-        Alexander, C. (2004), The nature of Order, book 4: The luminous ground, Berkeley (CA), The Center for Environmental structure.

-        Bao Y., Yang T., Lin X. and al. (2016), “Aesthetic Preferences for Eastern and Western Traditional Visual Art: Identity Matters”, Frontiers in Psychology, Doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01596.

-        Descola P. (2005), Par-delà nature et culture, Paris, Gallimard.

-        Egerton F. (2011), “History of Ecological Sciences, Part 39: Henry David Thoreau, Ecologist”, Bulletin of Ecological Society of America.

-        Escande Y. (2011), “L’arbre en Chine”, in J. Pigeaud, L’arbre ou la raison des arbres, PUR.

-        Filliozat P.-S. & Zink M. eds. (2018), L’arbre en Asie, Actes du colloque international de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres et de l’INALCO, 8-9 Dec. 2016, Peeters Publishers, Leuven.

-        Harrison R. (1992), Forest: Shadow of civilization, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

-        Ke Chin-Yuan (2019), Sacred forest.

-        Knight C. (2009, Dec.), “Between the profane and the spirit worlds: the conceptualisation of uplands and mountains in Japanese and Maori folklore”, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 11, n°2.

-        Knight C. (2010, Dec.), “The concept of satoyama and its role in the contemporary discourse on nature conservation in Japan”, Asian Studies Review, vol. 34, n°4.

-        Lushan Tribe (Forest Museum) (2018),

-        Rots A. (2014). Does Shinto offer a viable model for environmental sustainability? Excerpts from author’s PhD. Online Academia.

-        Wilson E. (1984), Biophilia, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

-        Won Sop S., Poung Sik Y., Rhi Wha Y., & Chang Seob S. (2010, Jan.). “Forest experience and psychological health benefits: the state of the art and future prospect in Korea”, Environ Health Prev Med; vol. 15, n°1, pp. 38–47. Doi: 10.1007/s12199-009-0114-9


Practical details

The conference will take place from 19 to 20 November 2021 in person and by videoconference at the INHA (Paris). The 20-minute papers may be in French or English. Contributions from artists and poets are welcome, including in the form of a performance.

An abstract of 300 to 500 words must be received by 30 August at the latest at Selected participants will be notified on 15 september.

A publication of a selection of the papers is planned.


Please note:

A three-hours immersive experience in a forest of Ile-de-France under the guidance of a naturalist and psychologist trained in Shinrin-Yoku will be organized for a limited number of interested participants (50€/pers.). For organisational reasons, registration must be made by 30 August at the latest. It is not refundable.


Asie-Sorbonne is an association of researchers working on Asian humanities whose headquarters are located within the Creops, Department of East and Southeast Asian Art History of the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

The contributions will be evaluated by an ad hoc scientific committee.



Bea Bien–U, The pine forest at Kyungju, 2010. C-Print- © Gallery X. Courtesy of the artist.


Contact Info: 

Secretariat Asie-Sorbonne