Virtual Graduate Student Workshop on "Religion, Pain, and Selfhood: Buddhist Studies and Anthropology in Conversation"

Saturday October 3rd 2020, 1:00 - 5:00PM
Event Sponsor
The Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford
Virtual. By Invitation Only.
"Religion, Pain, and Selfhood: Buddhist Studies and Anthropology in Conversation"


Virtual Graduate Student Workshop on
“Religion, Pain, and Selfhood: Buddhist Studies and Anthropology in Conversation” by Zoom

By Invitation Only. Zoom link will be sent to participants.

Graduate Students Workshop
This workshop is organized by Nancy Chu and aims to bring together scholars of Buddhism working in medical anthropology to discuss how ethnographic studies of pain, loss, and suffering contribute to our understanding of religion, particularly in a Buddhist context.  

Tanya Marie Luhrmann (When God Talks Back, Stanford University)


Felicity Aulino (Providing for Others; University of Massachusetts, Amherst) 
Julia Cassaniti

Julia Cassaniti (Living Buddhism, Remembering the Present; Washington State University)

C. Julia Huang (Charisma and Compassion; DePaul University)










Speaker Talk Details and Bios:

Felicity Aulino, UMass Amherst

“The Social Training of Awareness: Ethnography and the Resonance of Buddhaghosa’s Moral Phenomenology in Contemporary Thailand”

In this talk, I argue that Buddhaghosa’s fifth-century commentaries on the Pāli Canon of Theravāda Buddhism offer a robust theoretical framework for understanding contemporary practices of care in Northern Thailand. My work explores the habituated ways that people provide for others—that is, the way they care in everyday life. I will here home in on the longstanding tradition of withholding terminal diagnoses from patients as a route to discussing ethnographic inroads to understanding Buddhist approaches to pain. In essence, I want to bring phenomenological focus to the social training of perceptual awareness and the lived experience that results from such ingrained attention to the world. Physical routines and mundane interactions are thereby clues to what stands out as most salient in context, affording a critical perspective on what counts as care and why. With ethnographic material otherwise vexing to a host of analytic perspectives, the Theravāda philosophical lineage proves crucial for understanding contemporary subjectivity at Thai bedsides and beyond. 

Bio: Felicity Aulino is a Five-College Assistant Professor based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Anthropology. She received a PhD in Anthropology from Harvard University and an MPH in Health Behavior and Health Education from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health. Her ethnographic work in Thailand focuses on care, morality, subjectivity, and social change. In Rituals of Care: Karmic Politics in an Aging Thailand (2019, Cornell University Press), she explores habituated practices of providing for others at individual, interpersonal, and collective levels—along with the historical antecedents, political associations, and transformative potential of such acts.

Julia Cassaniti, Washington State University

“A Theravāda Medicine Buddha? The Buddha’s Biography in Contemporary Health Practices of Southeast Asia “

While many Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna schools of Buddhism include narratives of a Medicine Buddha (Bhaiṣajyaguru), there is no such explicit tradition in Southern, Theravāda contexts. The Buddha’s life story and his many representations in monastics, amulets, statues, and more, however, are readily evoked to help with healing in a range of contexts in Southeast Asia. In this talk I will focus on contemporary uses of the Buddha’s biography for medical purposes in Thailand, examining a variety of ‘modernist’ and ‘supernatural’ approaches in order to argue for the role of the Buddha as an exemplar of spiritual potency, and the potential for healing that is understood to result from practice.  

Bio: Julia Cassaniti is a psychological and medical anthropologist working on culture and cognition in Southeast Asia, with a focus on Buddhism in Thailand. Dr. Cassaniti's research examines the ways that shared religious ideas about causation, perception, and the mind are interpreted in personal and social life in Southeast Asia, and the implications that these interpretations have for global understandings of cognition and well-being. Her recent books include Living Buddhism: Mind, Self, and Emotion in a Thai Community (Cornell University Press, 2015) and Remembering the Present: Mindfulness in Buddhist Asia (Cornell U. Press, 2018), along with the edited volume Universalism Without Uniformity: Explorations in Mind and Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2017, with Usha Menon). She is currently a Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University, and an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Washington State University.

C. Julia Huang, DePaul University

“Endearing Cadavers: Buddhism and Corpse Donation in Contemporary Taiwan”

Recent decades saw an unprecedented “surge” of cadaver donation to a Buddhist university in Taiwan. While Theravada Buddhist ascetics have meditated on cadavers to develop detachment, the modern Mahayana Buddhist organization creates selfhoods for, and forging bonds with, the dead bodies. Cadavers are commemorated through rituals and multimedia, thus immortalizing them as silent mentors, as ultimate gifts to science, and furthermore, as representations of exemplary equanimity for Buddhists. Drawing from my fieldwork, I argue that the modern practice is to endear cadavers through pain, both experienced and imagined, so as to turn science into a means for compassion. 

Bio: C. Julia Huang was until recently a Professor of Anthropology at National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan. Huang’s specialty includes religion, globalization, and gender. She has done fieldwork in Taiwan, Malaysia, the United States, and shorter periods of research in Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, and China. Huang has published articles in the Journal of Asian Studies, Ethnology, Positions, Nova Religio, The Eastern Buddhist, and the European Journal for East Asian Studies. Her first book, Charisma and Compassion: Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement (Harvard University Press, 2009) focuses on a lay-Buddhist movement that began as a tiny group in Taiwan and grew into an organization with a membership of ten million worldwide. Recently, Huang completed a book manuscript, Religion and Charity: The Social Life of Goodness in Chinese Societies (co-authored with Robert P. Weller and Keping Wu, with Lizhu Fan) (Cambridge University Press, 2017). The book examines religious contributions to social welfare in China, Taiwan, and Malaysia. She is currently working on a project on Buddhism and cadaver donations for medical purposes.