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Jimmy Yu

Sheng Yen Associate Professor of Chinese Buddhism


Departmental Area: History and Ethnography of Religions
Research Areas : Buddhism and Chinese Religions; Material Culture; Violence and the Body; Chan and Zen Buddhisms

Address: Department of Religion
641 University Way / P.O. Box 3061520
The Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1520
Office: 120D Dodd Hall
Email: jyu2@fsu.edu
Office Hours: Mondays, 10-11am and by appointment

Curriculum Vitae

News Item: Sheng Yen Professorship in Chinese Buddhist Studies and Fellowship for Graduate Students


Jimmy Yu (Ph.D. '08, Princeton University, Department of Religion) teaches courses in East Asian religious traditions, with an emphasis in Buddhism and Chinese religions. His research interests include the history of the body in Chinese religions, Buddhist material culture, Chan/Zen Buddhisms, and popular religious movements within the broader context of fifteenth to seventeenth centuries China. Dr. Yu is also a grant committee advisor of the Sheng Yen Education Foundation Grant for Ph.D. Dissertation Research on Modern Chinese Buddhism.

His first book, Sanctity and Self-Inflicted Violence in Chinese Religions, 1500-1700 (Oxford University Press, 2012), explores self-inflicted violence as an essential and sanctioned part of premodern Chinese culture. He examines a wide range of practices, including blood writing, filial body-slicing, chastity mutilations and suicides, ritual exposure, and self-immolation, arguing that each practice was public, scripted, and a signal of cultural expectations. Individuals engaged in acts of self-inflicted violence to exercise power and to affect society, by articulating moral values, reinstituting order, forging new social relations, and protecting against the threat of moral ambiguity. Self-inflicted violence was intelligible both to the person doing the act and to those who viewed and interpreted it, regardless of the various religions of the period. This book is a groundbreaking contribution to scholarship on bodily practices in late imperial China, challenging preconceived ideas about analytic categories of religion, culture, and ritual in the study of Chinese religions.

His second and current book project focuses on the formation of a new religious movement, the Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan (DDLC), within Chinese Buddhism. The book will be the first full-length monograph of Chan Buddhism in modern times in any language and the first study of Sheng Yen, the founder of DDLC, in the English language.


Research and Teaching Interests

  • Late Ming period bodily practices
  • Death rituals and salvation in East Asian religions
  • Buddhist material culture
  • Doctrinal developments in Chinese Buddhism
  • Systems of Buddhist meditation practice
  • Chan/Zen Buddhisms

Recent Courses

Fall 2016

REL3345        Chan/Zen Buddhism
This course focuses on Chan, a school of Chinese Buddhism popularly known in Japanese as “Zen”.  The course surveys Zen both historically and thematically, from its beginnings through the modern period.  Topics include Chan’s origins, history, doctrine, ethical beliefs, meditation, ritual, and monastic institutions.   Meets Liberal Studies: Cultural Practice (LS-CUL) and Diversity: Cross Cultural Studies (DIV-XCC).

REL4359-3  / RLG5354-3   SP Topics Asian Rel: Body, Healing, and Asceticism
This course is a graduate seminar, open also to upper-level undergraduate students. It is a historical and interdisciplinary examination of relationships among premodern Chinese bodily practices, healing arts, and the asceticism, drawing on important and recent scholarly studies. These three themes allow us to examine Chinese religions as a whole instead of parsing them into problematic categories of “Buddhism,” “Confucianism,” “Daoism,” and “popular religions.” In other words, these themes cut across religious and cultural divides. We will explore how the body is understood, perceived, cultivated, and disciplined in premodern China, and pay special attention to underlying religious and philosophical worldviews and the ways in which they influence bodily practices.

RLG5318        Classic Chinese Texts 
This seminar covers selected primary-source readings in classical Chinese about Chinese religions.  Readings are drawn from a sampling of historical periods and genres, including canonical literature, philosophical treatises, ritual manuals, poetry, hagiography, and local gazetteers.  Students learn to use lexical and bibliographic references, digital resources, and other research tools. May be repeated to a maximum of twelve credit hours. Special permission by Dr. Yu needed to register.


REL4359/5354-03   Special Topics in Asian Religions:    Chinese Religions
This course is a graduate seminar on Chinese religions, open also to upper-level undergraduate students. This seminar examines important or recent scholarly studies on the histories, doctrines, and rituals of medieval Daoism, Buddhism, and popular religions. The focus is primarily on the intersection of cultic traditions and Chinese culture, with special attention to several themes: Chinese gods and the problem of unity vs. diversity; patterns of authority in Chinese religions; diviners, shamans, and priests; and death, mortuary rites, and salvation.

REL 2350   Religions of East Asia
This course combines thematic and historical approaches to religions of East Asia, focusing primarily on China and Japan. It examines interactions among Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and popular and new religious movements. Students will approach the histories of East Asian religions as processes of change, border-crossing, and mutual-influence. Readings have been drawn from secondary scholarship as well as a variety of primary sources in translation, including myths, canonical scriptures, polemical tracts, hagiography, and narrative tales. Assigned readings will be augmented by occasional in-class films. Some of the questions and issues explored in this course include: Are there clear demarcations between secular and religious practices in East Asian religions? How do we characterize the interactions between imported and indigenous religions? Readings have been drawn from secondary scholarship as well as a variety of primary sources in translation, including myths, canonical scriptures, polemical tracts, hagiography, and narrative tales. Assigned readings will be augmented by occasional in-class films.