Office: Founders 125
Office Hours: Wednesday 1:00-3:00
and by appointment
Welcome to my webpage. My name is Hank Glassman and I teach in the joint Department of East Asian Studies at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges. While my PhD is in Religious Studies, I am primarily a historian of Japan.
The interdisciplinary nature of my scholarly pursuits allows interests in and connection to various topics and themes. Thus, I offer a range of courses on Japan, on Buddhism, on East Asia, each with a particular focus on culture and history. Most of our primary sources are from literature or visual culture. I describe these courses below and briefly note their connection to my research interests. Each of the courses engages gender, literature, and visual culture. In these courses, we seek to understand culture, including religion or kinship, as an integrated lived phenomenon, not just as a conglomeration of disparate systems of thought, ideologies, or historical events.
The courses are intended to sharpen and develop students’ skills in reading and interpretation as well as introduce or explore the topics at hand. The learning goals of all of the classes fall under three rubrics: 1) becoming better readers; 2) developing proficiency in oral presentation and in the facilitation of group discussion; 3) working towards mastery in research and writing. While the "content" of each course is very interesting and certainly valuable in its own right, the deeper point is to focus on growing as a reader and a communicator. A number of these offerings are cross-listed in Religion or History. All receive EAS credit. See Moodle for the most recent syllabi and the TriCo Course Guide for this term’s offerings.
"Japanese Civilization" EAS 132
A historical survey where we read a number of historical sources and autobiographical works in translation and examine the discursive construction of Japanese identity -- from Queen Himiko of Yamatai in the third century to the twenty-first-century rapper K Dub Shine. The course is an introductory level (100 level) offering and assumes no familiarity with Japan or with the study of History at a college level. A major objective of the course is to help students understand the retrospective, constructed, and often strategic nature of historical narratives. Students will become better readers and will be challenged by reading texts in translation from various periods, where unfamiliar ideas abound. Together, we will investigate some of the processes behind the creation of the story of Japan even as we progress through the centuries.
This course, insofar as it examines the history of identity and notions of influence and imitation, is related to my research interests in the assimilation of Buddhism as a foreign (Indian/Chinese) religion in Japan and to the spread of religious doctrine and imagery throughout the populace in the late medieval period.
"Introduction to Buddhism" EAS 201
An overview of the Buddhist tradition with an emphasis on the Mahāyāna in East Asia. It is also an introduction to working with texts, understanding the degrees of primary and secondary sources, citing the arguments of others, and so on. In the pursuit of knowledge about Buddhism (and the very important ancillary goals) read three sutras, original Buddhist texts, in translation, and many articles about the philosophy, doctrine, and practice of Buddhism. While the course focuses primarily on the development of doctrinal, or theological, ideas across the history of the tradition, there is considerable emphasis on the visual record and other non-textual sources. In class discussions, we bridge the gap between popular expectations about Buddhist ideas and practices and what we read in the texts. No prior experience in courses on East Asia or Religion are necessary. In many ways, the class is an introduction to the study of religion. Students write short papers, or exegeses, on paintings and sculptures, as well as on Buddhist scriptures.
Here, I have ample room to extend my thinking about the relationship of image and text that is very important in some corners of my scholarly work. I also enjoy telling the story of the Buddha, as this reinforces and resonates usefully with my work on hagiographic traditions.
"Zen Thought, Zen Culture, Zen History" EAS 256
Examines the philosophy, history, and material culture of the Zen sect in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. We focus on a set of debates within the history and historiography of the Zen or Chan sect of Buddhism, famous for its spontaneity, nonsensical mind puzzles, and the antics of eccentric masters. Examining the historical origins of Chan in China during the seventh and eighth century and also studying the underlying doctrinal assertions regarding delusion and enlightenment, gradual awakening and sudden insight. We also take up the role of material and visual culture and well as the place of ritual in the history of Chan/Zen. This course requires collaborative work in the presentation of major themes from the syllabus – lineage, meditation, relic worship, satori, ink brush painting, etc. -- and it culminates in a twenty-page independent research paper.
This course engages some material on the Western reception of Buddhism during the twentieth century and debates about the mutual intelligibility of East and West. There is some focus on the person of D.T. Suzuki, an important and influential figure in the presentation of the tradition to the wider world. It also includes a good number of primary sources, as well as strongly polemical academic revisionist histories. (Not to say that these latter are any more polemical than the primary sources!) This "reception history" interests me greatly, as does the close examination of the historiography of a fairly narrow academic field – Zen studies – and its development in English language sources from the 1950’s to the present. Thinking about how Americans came to know and understand Buddhism from the mid-20th century forward allows me to put my own scholarly practice in context.
"Death and the Afterlife in East Asian Religions" EAS 247
A core question in any religious system must be, "what happens after we die?" This course, a thematic survey in reverse chronological order, offers a view into some answers, some practices, and still more questions, from East Asia. Here we begin with books and articles and two contemporary feature films (1980 and 2009) on the topic of death and the funeral industry in today’s Japan. Since Japan is a modern, industrialized, secular society, like the United States, some of the themes of alienation from religious traditions or the questioning of the meaning of death ritual seem familiar to many people in the class. And yet things are quite different at the same time. This first section is useful to introduce students to the complexities of Buddhist and Confucian notions of the next world and to the important idea of ancestorhood. The next unit of the course takes a primarily anthropological look at Korean shamanism. Here too, we see two recent films (2003 and 2006) that are more ethnographic, or documentary in nature. This part of the course involves trance, spirit possession, and animal sacrifice, as well as a complex and brightly illustrated pantheon of Korean, Chinese, and Buddhist gods and spirits. The loud clanging and high pitched wail of the ritual music is quite affecting. Here, many students find it hard to imagine the "survival" of these sorts of practices in the modern age. There is ample opportunity in class to relate modern skepticism regarding shamanism to Protestant doctrinal critiques of instrumental religion, or nineteenth-century descriptions of the "primitive." Finally, the class undertakes a third thematic investigation, centered on the incorporation of Buddhism into Chinese death ritual fifteen hundred years ago, and the incorporation of Chinese elements into Buddhist ideas about the afterlife seven or eight centuries later. Requires a twenty-page final research paper due at the end of the course.
This course is related in meaningful ways to my ongoing investigation of the place of the dead in medieval Japanese religious culture. Also, as in many of my courses, gender is at the center of the questions we ask of the sources. How do the dead belong in families and how are the imperatives of Confucian kinship organization managed locally in ritual or text? The comparative nature of the course, collecting together as it does elements from various places and times, allows me, with the help of students, to think more broadly about these issues so central in my research.
"Sex and Gender in Japanese Buddhism" EAS 310
In this seminar we examine the intersection of religion and gender in Japan. The course assumes no prior academic experience in gender, literature, religion, or Japanese culture and includes a large number of primary texts in translation. Reading assignments have been kept relatively short to allow for careful consideration of these fascinating documents that allow men and women of another time and place to speak to us across the centuries. Literature provides an excellent window into the gender system of any culture; in the case of ancient Japan we are fortunate to have a wealth of female-authored texts. Too often, however, "gender" is equated with the study of women. This course also seeks to include religious constructions of masculinity. Toward the end of the course, we turn to the issue of religion and reproduction in a more contemporary context. The last weeks are devoted to work on a twenty-page research paper.
My doctoral dissertation (2001) focused largely on the topic of gender in medieval Japanese religion and gender, so this is a course where I know the subject matter particularly well. I enjoy teaching the class very much, especially as it allows me to keep up with the most recent developments in the field. Every year I have offered it, the list of possible reading assignments has grown and grown. Also, a section of the course focuses on the worship of Jizô bodhisattva, the subject of my 2012 book, and so I feel the class reflects some of my core research interests to date.
TOPICS IN BUDDHIST STUDIES EAS 370 – a course shell for rotating seminars on varied topics, two past examples follow below, future seminars topics include "Japanese Buddhist Literature" and "Pure Land Buddhism." Where possible, readings include primary sources in original languages.
"The Lotus Sutra: Word, Text, and Image"
The Lotus Sutra (AKA Saddharmapundarika sûtra, Miaofa lianhua jing, Hokke kyô, etc.) is one of the most widely revered scriptures in the world and it is by far the most popular Buddhist text in East Asia. We will read (an English language translation of the 5th C. Chinese translation of) this book in its entirety and it will constitute our main focus. We will also be studying various aspects of the philosophy, doctrine, and practice of this sacred text through secondary sources and images. In this class we will range widely, examining, for example, the idea of "skillful means" (a sort of ethics of practicality and contingency), Buddhist theories of language, practices of the body, visual culture, notions of gender, and other topics. The course assumes a working knowledge of Buddhist doctrine, but even people who have taken a basic course on Buddhism will certainly be stretching to understand some of the material we cover. That is well and as it should be; the topic of Buddhism is a vast and unbounded one, as is indeed the topic of the Lotus Sutra. We will move forward together with an attitude of mutual respect and joint exploration. Towards that end, pairs of students will be responsible for introducing the week’s reading and leading discussion each class meeting. We will establish this order at the second class meeting. This course will demonstrate how one small book can contain worlds and can inspire centuries of philosophical development and debate, literary production, artistic endeavor, and ascetic practice. The semester culminates in an independent twenty-page research paper project.
"Buddhist Visual Culture"
Offers students training and practice in reading religious images in context. Students place a number of disciplines – art history, literature, history – into conversation with one another to understand their respective and combined uses in scholarly practice. The course emphasizes practice in writing, research, and oral communication. The most important skills developed, however, are careful and critical reading and "looking." The category of Buddhist Art or Buddhist Visual Culture is by no means self-evident. One early objective of the course is be to establish the parameters of this field and the nature of our engagement with it. Students come away from the term with: 1) a familiarity with some outlines of Buddhist doctrine and history and deeper knowledge of some specific themes; 2) an increased awareness of the place of images and objects in religious traditions (both in general and in specific instances); and, 3) an exposure to and engagement with scholarly discussions at the intersection of art, religion, and Buddhism.
My 2012 book, The Face of Jizô, deals for the most part with the place of images in medieval Japanese religion. My subsequent project on the history of stone graves, is even more concerned with visual and material culture. This course helps me think through, again with the help of students, some of the key issues surrounding the place of non-textual evidence in telling the story of Buddhism. In the case of Japan, there are often many surviving texts offering a rich context for the exploration of the meaning of images, buildings, or sites. In many other Asian countries, this is not the case. Here we read about the great monument at Borobudur, from 9th century Java, where a history must be reconstructed and an interpretation drawn from only the surviving visual remains. This course allows me to ponder a number of the methodological knots involved in writing about "material religion," using cases somewhat removed from my own scholarly sub-specialization.