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Bryan D. Lowe: "A Temple in Every Village? Buddhism’s Spread in Seventh- through Ninth-Century Japan"

Tuesday March 12th 2024, 5:00PM
Event Sponsor
The Ho Center for Buddhist Studies
Stanford East Asian Library, Room 224
Bryan D. Lowe


There were only 46 temples in Japan in 624. In 838, the Japanese monk Ensai told a Chinese official there were 3,700 monasteries and many convents as well. Was this a reasonable claim? Had Japan really gone from having almost no temples and all of them standing in the capital region to the equivalent of a temple in every village in roughly two centuries? In this presentation, I will argue that while every village may not have had its own temple, it is likely that most people in ninth-century Japan would have been able to walk to a humble place of worship to pray before a Buddhist image and listen to a traveling preacher. My presentation will begin by assessing Ensai’s assertion and will then outline three phases of temple construction that resulted in Buddhism penetrating village life, even in remote provinces. In short, I will tell the story of how Buddhism spread in Japan.


Bryan Lowe is an Assistant Professor and the Melancthon W. Jacobus Preceptor in Princeton University's Department of Religion. He specializes in Buddhism in ancient Japan (seventh through ninth centuries) and has broader research interests in ritual, manuscript studies, historiography, canons, and the religion of non-elites. Lowe’s first book, Ritualized Writing: Buddhist Practice and Scriptural Cultures in Ancient Japan, received the John Whitney Hall Book Prize from the Association of Asian Studies. His new project traces the rapid spread of Buddhism to the Japanese countryside between 650–850 CE.

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Kokawadera Engi Emaki, 12th-century

Kokawadera Engi Emaki, 12th-century