Transforming the Archives of Chinese Religion and Medicine: A Digital Tool for Situating the History of Materials and Practices
Recent shifts to performative, practice and materiality-based approaches to the histories of religion and of science have questioned the very categories with which we do our studies, and called for more flexible research tools. This has seen the recent emergence of Buddhist and Daoist Medicine as new fields of historical inquiry, which challenge the habitual borders between earlier histories of religion and medicine. As historians have begun to draw on long-known insights in anthropology, that therapeutic and salvific aims frequently converge in practice, they have begun to open up new research directions into the admixture of “medical” practices such as drugs, needles and moxibustion with “religious” practices such as incantation, spells and rituals. Currently there is no systematic way to get an overview for how therapies are distributed through the canons, the communities who wrote these texts, or their distribution across historical time and space. New catalogues continue to be published, but their categories limit the aims of researchers, whose goals constantly shift as new theoretical insights and typologies of practice come into their view.
The platform developed by Dept. III of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and National Taiwan University’s Research Centre for Digital Humanities allows scholars to define their own repertoires of practice or sets of materials as term lists. The subject for the initial pilot study examines drug knowledge throughout the corpus of Six Dynasties Buddhist and Daoist texts. They can then search for these across large corpuses of data, and discover their relative distribution across bibliographic and sectarian genres, as well as time and space, where known. Researchers can then markup significant texts for more detailed analysis. The platform can then perform detailed analysis of these small text segments. By combining large-scale analytical tools and a full-text database in the same platform, this tool enables researchers to easily switch between close and distant reading modes. This pilot research compares the uses of drugs, their geographic distribution, whether certain sects possess certain drug knowledge, whether it circulates and if so how, and under what circumstances. Results at the time of writing are preliminary, but suggest that early Vināya translations reveal five different regional drug traditions from North India.
DHAsia gratefully acknowledges support for Prof. Stanley-Baker's visit from the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), the Center for Interdisciplinary Digital Research, the Confucius Institute, the Center for East Asian Studies, the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies, and other partners.
About the Speaker
Michael Stanley-Baker studies Chinese medicine and religions, with a focus on Six Dynasties China (220-589 CE), the formative period for defining religion as a cultural category in China. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Dept. III. He holds a PhD in Chinese medical history from University College London, an MA in East Asian Languages and Cultures from Indiana University, a clinical diploma in Chinese Medicine from Ruseto College, Boulder CO, and a BAHons in English and Philosophy from the University of East Anglia. He has held research posts at the Berlin Centre for the History of Knowledge, the Needham Research Institute, and the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica, Taipei. He is writing a book titled Situating Medicine and Religion in China while developing a database platform to analyse the transmission of drug knowledge across multiple practice communities.
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