This Spring, Boston University Center for the Study of Asia (BUCSA) is proud to present two new books published by its two affiliated faculty members: Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons by Professor Wiebke Denecke, and The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan by Professor Gina Cogan.
Ever since Karl Jasper’s “axial age” paradigm, there have been a number of influential studies comparing ancient East Asian and Greco-Roman history and culture. However, to date there has been no comparative study involving multiple literation traditions in these cultural spheres. Classical World Literatures compares the dynamics between the younger literacy cultures of Japan and Rome and the literatures of their venerable predecessors, China and Greece. How were writers of the younger cultures of Rome and Japan affected by the presence of an older “reference culture,’ whose sophistication they admired, even as they anxiously strove to assert their own distinctive identity? How did they tackle the challenge of adopting the reference culture’s literary genres, rhetorical refinement, and conceptual vocabulary for writing texts in different languages and within distinct political and cultural contexts?
Classical World Literatures captures the striking similarities between the ways early Japanese authors wrote their own literature through and against the literary precedents of China, and the ways Latin writers engaged and contested Greek precedents. But it also brings to light suggestive divergences that are rooted in geopolitical, linguistic, sociohistorical, and aesthetic differences between early Japanese and Roman literary cultures. Proposing a methodology of “deep comparison” for the cross-cultural comparison of premodern literary cultures and calling for an expansion of world literature debates into the ancient and medieval worlds, Classical World Literatures is both a theoretical intervention and an invitation to read and re-read four major literary traditions in an innovative and illuminating light. For more information, click here.
The Princess Nun tells the story of Bunchi (1619–1697), daughter of Emperor Go-Mizunoo and founder of Enshōji. Bunchi advocated strict adherence to monastic precepts while devoting herself to the posthumous welfare of her family. As the first full-length biographical study of a premodern Japanese nun, this book incorporates issues of gender and social status into its discussion of Bunchi’s ascetic practice and religious reforms to rewrite the history of Buddhist reform and Tokugawa religion.
Gina Cogan’s approach moves beyond the dichotomy of oppression and liberation that dogs the study of non-Western and premodern women to show how Bunchi’s aristocratic status enabled her to carry out reforms despite her gender, while simultaneously acknowledging how that same status contributed to their conservative nature. Cogan’s analysis of how Bunchi used her prestigious position to further her goals places the book in conversation with other works on powerful religious women, like Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila. Through its illumination of the relationship between the court and the shogunate and its analysis of the practice of courtly Buddhism from a female perspective, this study brings historical depth and fresh theoretical insight into the role of gender and class in early Edo Buddhism.