Politics of Sacred Space in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century East Asia

AHA Session 97
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon A (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Saeyoung Park, Johns Hopkins University
Sacred Spaces and Early Modern Subjecthood in Chosŏn Korea
Saeyoung Park, Johns Hopkins University
The Production of Sacred Space at Linggu Monastery
William Charles Wooldridge, Lehman College, City University of New York
Evelyn S. Rawski, University of Pittsburgh

Session Abstract

This panel explores the changing social construction of state power in sacred spaces in East Asia between 1800 and 1949.  Each paper is a case study of a particular location, and each considers the category of the sacred as inseparable from the larger spatial practices that give it meaning.  Saeyoung Park shows how arguments about the commemoration of a monk could define relationships of subjects to empire.  Chuck Wooldridge examines the changing ways residents of Nanjing invoked visions of an idealized polity at a local monastery.  Brian Dott explores how a mountain associated with filial piety could become  a symbol of the nation.
In contrast to earlier generations of scholars who viewed the modern state as an increasingly secular institution, the presenters are attuned to the ways in which practices such as pilgrimage, ritual, patronage, writing, and prayer could bolster state building projects.  Religious practices could, for example, suggest forms of identity, define the ideal roles of subjects or citizens, and single out exemplars who embodied and modeled these roles.  At the same time, each presenter emphasizes that the nature (and thus the political implications) of sacrality changed over time, and each seeks to identify which actors contested meaning, identity, and power at these sites. The result is not a narrative of modernizing nation states.  Instead, the malleability of sacred sites meant that they could simultaneously invoke contending views of the state.  Examination of the sacred thus unveils diverse and otherwise hidden forms of political imagining.

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