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Center for Study of Religion talk by Natasha Heller (UCLA Dept of ALC)

Talk title: Buddhist Recitation in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
NELC Seminar Room, 365 Humanities Bldg
Los Angeles, CA

The “Buddha recitation device” is a small plastic box that plays a looped chant of Amitābha Buddha’s name. With the size and appearance of a transistor radio, the “Buddha recitation device” is an object that is easy to overlook. But this device, its packaging, and its usage presents an opportunity to think about modern transformations of religious technologies and the role of oral recitation in a multi-media world. The “Buddha recitation device” automates religious practice, allowing for repetition beyond usual human capabilities. This in turn raises questions about the relation between mechanical recitation and that offered by the practitioner. To assert the “Buddha recitation device” as a replacement for an individual’s own recitation practice would trouble conventional Buddhist understandings of recitation. Such a mechanical substitution for human vocalization, however, has its place in hospice care and other settings in which a practitioner is unable to carry out recitation. This presentation will discuss how premodern practices are reshaped by modern technologies.

Natasha Heller teaches Chinese religion in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA. Her research engages the relationship between Buddhism and secular culture in China, primarily in the Middle Imperial period. Recent publications include: “Why Has the Rhinoceros Come from the West? An Excursus into the Religious, Literary, and Environmental History of the Tang Dynasty,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 131.3 (2011) and “From Imperial Glory to Buddhist Piety: The Record of a Ming Ritual in Three Contexts,” History of Religions 51.1 (2011): 59-83.

Cost : Free and open to the public

Download file: Heller-talk-ld-44s.pdf

Sponsor(s): Center for Buddhist Studies, Asian Languages & Cultures, Center for the Study of Religion

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