Friday 10/26/2018: Talk by Michael Como, "Angry Spirits and Urban Soundscapes in Ancient Japan"

The Columbia University Buddhist Studies Seminar, the Center for Buddhism and East Asian Religion and the Columbia University Seminars would like to invite you to the following talk:

Angry Spirits and Urban Soundscapes in Ancient Japan
Michael Como, Columbia University

Friday, Oct 26th, 2018, 6:00pm
Columbia University, Faculty House

From the late seventh to the late eighth centuries, Japanese rulers built no fewer than six capitals, with the largest housing as many as 70,000 to 100,000 residents. In this talk, I will suggest that the buildings, roads and tools of these capitals functioned not simply as inert matter, but also as active forces that reshaped the ritual means by which urban residents mediated their relationship with their physical environment and with the superhuman world. Because urbanization disrupted longstanding geographic connections between shrines, tombs and the urban residents that had left them behind, it helped produce a number of new ritual strategies related to divination and the propitiation of angry spirits. Although the visual dimensions of the new urban landscape have been discussed by scholars of Japanese literature and art history, in this talk my chief concern will be with the aural dimensions associated with the construction of the Nara and Heian capitals. How did the new urban soundscapes affect the ritual strategies and interpretative frameworks of rulers ensconced in their Nara and Heian palaces? How, and where, did the court and its officials listen for clues concerning both the mundane and superhuman worlds? As I explore these questions, I shall argue that a series of aural anomalies recorded in the court histories helps illustrate remarkable shifts in the ritual means by which the court engaged this newly-built environment and its manifold structures that went bump in the night. 

Michael Como (B.A., Harvard; Ph.D., Stanford University), is the Tōshū Fukami Associate Professor of Shinto Studies at Columbia. Michael's recent research has focused on the religious history of the Japanese islands from the Asuka through the early Heian periods, with a particular focus upon the Chinese and Korean deities, rites and technological systems that were transmitted to the Japanese islands during this time. He is the author of several articles on the ritual and political consequences of the introduction of literacy, sericulture and horse-culture from the Asian sub-continent into ancient Japan. His major publications include Shōtoku: Ethnicity, Ritual and Violence in the Formation of Japanese Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2008), Weaving and Binding: Immigrant Gods and Female Immortals in Ancient Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 2009) and Medieval Shintō, a special edition of the Cahiers d’Êxtreme Asie that he co-edited with Bernard Faure and Iyanaga Nobumi in 2010. He is currently working on a new monograph that focuses upon urbanization and the materiality of performance and interpretation in Japanese religion in the eighth and ninth centuries.

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