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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : History of Art

Undergraduate Course: Blood, bones, and bodies: Buddhist relics in Asia (HIAR10155)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryWhat do bones, mummies, and blood writing all have in common? Why craft an exquisite vessel of the most precious materials just to bury or hide it? We will discover answers to these questions and other intriguing paradoxes at work in Buddhist relics. The principles underlying these objects and issues that seem so distant from us are in fact ubiquitous in our contemporary society, from celebrity worship to Horcruxes.
Course description This course is designed to introduce the fundamental concerns of appearance, creation, and function of Buddhist relics and reliquaries in Asia. Revealing the subject to be transhistorical and transcultural, this course analyses the veneration of Buddhist relics and reliquaries by focusing on their art, ritual, and devotion in India, China, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Not only are courses devoted to the study of Buddhist relics rare, they seldom present the subject from the viewpoint of visual and material culture. This course approaches the subject from a multidisciplinary perspective, reading primary and secondary source materials that touch on religious rituals, gender, economics, patronage, political history, literature, and iconography to flesh out this neglected and elusive topic.

The course begins with an introduction to contentious debates in the historiography of relics and reliquaries and the fluidity of their definitions to establish the seminar's foundation. By focusing on the materiality of relics in the first part of the course, their physicality, and even raw beauty, are shown to be of great significance to their perceived power. The second part of the course examines the multitude of uses and abuses of relics and reliquaries throughout history with important points of comparison to medieval Christian relics and saints.

As a two-hour per week seminar course, the start of each class will be lectures which will draw out certain points from the required readings, provide visual accompaniment, and present additional information to augment the week's theme. The second half of the class will be student-led open discussions of the readings and assigned topic. There will also be a field trip to Holyrood Palace to study the materiality and presentation of Christian relics on display there as a comparative example.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: History of Art 2 (HIAR08012) OR ( Architectural History 2a: Order & the City (ARHI08006) AND Architectural History 2b: Culture & the City (ARHI08007))
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand ways in which relics and reliquaries have been critical in shaping Buddhist art, ritual, and thought in a Pan-Asian context.
  2. Engage in substantive inquiry and critical analysis on the diverse visuality and many functions of relics and reliquaries.
  3. Critique the historiography of this subject and locate their own place within the developing field of knowledge.
  4. Demonstrate developed skills of visual enquiry, analysis and communication using a wide range of objects.
Reading List
Faure, Bernard. 'The Buddhist Icon and the Modern Gaze.' Critical Inquiry 24.3 (1998): 768-813.
Fister, Patricia. 'Creating Devotional Art with Body Fragments.' Journal of Japanese Religious Studies 27.3-4 (2000): 213-38.
O'Neal, Halle. 'Performing the Jeweled Pagoda Mandalas: Relics, Reliquaries, and a Realm of Text.' The Art Bulletin 97.3 (2015): 279-300.
Sharf, Robert H. 'On the Allure of Buddhist Relics.' Representations 66 (1999): 75-99.
Trainor, Kevin M. 'When is a Theft Not a Theft' Relic Theft and the Cult of Buddha's Relics in Sri Lanka.' Numen 39.1 (1992): 3-26.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Visual and critical analysis, independent research, presentation and communication skills, organisation and planning, creative thinking
KeywordsBuddhism,Asia,relic,reliquary,art,material culture,body,ritual
Course organiserDr Halle O'Neal
Tel: (0131 6)50 2340
Email: halle.o'
Course secretaryMrs Sue Cavanagh
Tel: (0131 6)51 1460
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