January 25, 2022
Chinese History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Intellectual History, South Asian History / Studies, Literature
Please join us for two online talks hosted by the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures at The Queen’s College in the University of Oxford. Our centre promotes inter-disciplinary discussion among scholars and students interested in manuscripts and material culture in the premodern world. So your participation is most welcome regardless of your field of specialty.
We are meeting on Zoom on Tuesday 25th January at 12,30-2,00pm (UK time).
Yegor Grebnev (BNU-HKBU United International College)
"Classification of Texts in Manuscript Culture. Examples from early China"
The way texts are labelled and grouped has a tremendous impact on the way we approach ancient cultures to perpetuate contemporary debates on such topics as "history", "religion", "philosophy", etc. In the case of early China, scholarly inquiries are facilitated by China's indigenous tradition of systematic text grouping. The earliest example of such bibliographic categorization is attested in the "Treatise on Arts and Literature", a chapter in the History of Han created ca. 111 AD. This text establishes separate bibliographic categories for the different genres of canonical and non-canonical texts, and within the so-called "Masters" texts (zhuzi), it identifies different concurrent intellectual traditions, such as the Daoist, the Ruist (Confucian), the Mohist, etc. It is not difficult to observe that this grouping is virtually identical to the patterns of contemporary academic inquiry into early Chinese intellectual history.
The availability of convenient groupings, however, does not eliminate the questions regarding the rationale behind such groupings. Indeed, there are ample reasons to suggest that the neat clear-cut divisions between textual categories enshrined in the "Treatise on Arts and Literature" reflect only one of the many ways of ordering the broad textual tradition. This presentation will focus on several examples related to the scriptural (shu) texts, which are unique for stretching across the canonical/non-canonical divide. The individual shu texts can be grouped in multiple alternative ways, which questions the universal validity of the categories of the "Treatise on Arts and Literature" and allows to trace connections between compositions conventionally seen as unrelated.
Vishal Sharma (University of Oxford)
"What Is the True Story? Reading practices for reconciling diversity in the Sanskrit epic tradition"
The Sanskrit epics, the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki and the Mahābhārata of Vyāsa, are part of a rich narrative tradition that is defined by its diversity. Over the past two millennia, they have been told and retold in multiple languages from all regions of South and South East Asia. The many tellings in Sanskrit alone, particularly in a genre of texts known as the Purāṇas, meant that there would inevitably be differences in the plot, some minor and some major. This presented a challenge to medieval and early modern commentators and interpreters of these texts, for whom the two texts were considered authoritative.
In this presentation, I will look at how three exegetes from different religious traditions of premodern South India reconciled and understood diverging narrative details in the Sanskrit epics and Purāṇas. Exegetes wrestled with the options of recognizing multiple versions of the epic stories, while maintaining the authority of the two Sanskrit tellings of the epics. How could competing versions of the story exist authoritatively, and how were they read together for theological and polemical purposes?
Here is a link to the sign-up form. Attendance is free of charge but sign-up is mandatory. We will send a Zoom link to all participants the day before the talk.
The Queen's College
Oxford (United Kingdom)