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Semester 1

Visions of the Buddha: Religious Art in Medieval Japan (HIAR10163)


History of Art





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This course cannot be taken alongside History of Art 2A or 2B. Visiting students must have completed at least 3 History of Art courses at grade B or above; we will only consider University/College level courses. **Please note that History of Art courses have extremely limited spaces available, and are very popular, so students cannot be guaranteed a space in any History of Art course.** These enrolments are managed strictly by the Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department, and all enquiries to enrol in these courses must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the History of Art department directly to request additional spaces.

Course Summary

Manga and anime only scratch the surface of Japanese visual and material culture which has flourished for six millennia. This course focuses on medieval artistic production in Japan to investigate the ubiquitous presence of Buddhism, to uncover not only the religious but also the socio-political motivations, to question modern assumptions of Buddhism, and to reveal the continued importance of critical themes at work in this art to our own contemporary society. The course is thematically structured as a series of two-hour seminars incorporating lectures, class discussions, and group activities.

Course Description

Investigating the visual and material culture of medieval Japan offers an opportunity to explore the deployment of Buddhism for intriguing and poignant reasons do with political authority, gender politics, soteriological goals, fears of death and retribution, and the drive to create something beautiful and powerful. In effect, these are concerns that still face us today. This course analyses the objects presented in lectures and in your readings not only as aesthetic and religious works, but also as icons embodying the particular socio-historical contexts of their production. We grapple with issues of style, iconography, economics, patronage, belief systems, labour, and gender. In order to flesh out these connections, a crucial part of the course will be reading and discussing interdisciplinary and primary source documents. Small group activities are designed to help you experience the subject from different pedagogical perspectives. Our goal is to tell a story of religion, history, literature, and politics with art at its centre, revealing the indispensability and interconnectedness of visual culture to the fabric of medieval Japan. As a two-hour per week seminar course, the start of each class will be lectures which will draw out certain points from the required readings, provide visual accompaniment, and present additional information to augment the week's theme. The second half of the class will be student-led open discussions of the readings and assigned topic and small group activities that spark and reinforce new learning.

Assessment Information

Written Exam 50%, Coursework 50%, Practical Exam 0%

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