Sheng Yen Associate Professor of Chinese Buddhism
Departmental Area: History and Ethnography of Religions
Address: Department of Religion
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
- Asceticism and 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
REL3340 The Buddhist Tradition
This course is a historical and thematic survey of Buddhism from its beginnings through the modern period. Topics covered include origins and history, doctrine, ethical beliefs, meditation, ritual, and monastic and popular traditions. Some attention will also be given to contemporary forms of Buddhism in America. Part I of this course begins with some foundational concepts in Buddhism. Part II explores the Buddhist schools, theories, and practices in different regions of the world and over a span of 2,500 years. Meets the Liberal Studies- Cultural Practice and Cross-cultural (x) requirements.
REL4359 Chinese Buddhist Studies
This seminar covers the history and historigraphical issues in the study of Chinese Buddhism. It examines scholarly constructions of Buddhist Studies as a field in general and the historiography of Chinese Buddhist Studies specifically, with a focus on the shifts that took place in scholarly representations and paradigms. The seminar reveals this methodological shifts in the field from
philology to philosophy; from missionary concerns to sectarian orientations; from doctrinal studies to anthropological approaches.
RLG5318 Classical Chinese Texts
This is a seminar in the reading of selected primary sources in classical Chinese for the study of Chinese religions. Part one of the course will be a concise review of Chinese grammar. Part two of the course will focus on reading a small sampling of texts from different historical periods and genres, including canonical literature, ritual manuals, poetry, and hagiographies and local gazetteers. The course will also introduce students to a variety of tools and methods for the study of Chinese literature, including standard lexical and bibliographic references, digital resources, and secondary scholarship in modern languages. There will be weekly assignments for Part One of the course and weekly translation assignments and other exercises for Part Two of the course.
Prerequisite: One year Chinese language or familiarity with written Chinese and with permission from Dr. Yu.
RLG5354 Chinese Buddhist Studies
REL3345 Chan/Zen Buddhism
This course focuses on Chan 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, practice and culture.
REL4359/RLG5354 Body, Healing, and Asceticism in Chinese Religions
This seminar is a historical and interdisciplinary examination of relationships among premodern Chinese bodily practices, healing arts, and the asceticism. The seminar pays special attention to underlying religious and philosophical worldviews and to the ways in which they influence self-inflicted violent bodily practices.