NEH Seminar on Daoism

NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers

An Introduction to Daoist Literature and History


In its nearly two millennia of existence, Daoism (Daojiao 道教), China's indigenous organized religion, has come to touch all aspects of Chinese civilization, from literature and music to philosophy, art, medicine, dance, theater, architecture, ritual, and, of course, religion. Come explore the secrets of the Daoist canon with us. We are offering an intensive course on how to read and interpret Daoist sources. We will spend three weeks in intense reading sessions, systematically surveying the panoply of Daoist scriptures, liturgies, precept lists, and hagiographies from the remnants of the earliest Celestial Master communities in the second century C.E. to modern works still in use by Han and non-Han practitioners inside and beyond the borders of China. Our goal is to familiarize seminar participants with the wide variety of Daoist literature in canonical and extra-canonical collections, and to give them the basic skills to read and evaluate Daoist documents, so that they can integrate Daoism materials into their research and teaching.

Your guides will be senior scholars of Daoism who have read and discussed Daoist texts for many years. The co-directors will be Stephen R. Bokenkamp of Arizona State University and Terry F. Kleeman of our host, the University of Colorado. Both are among the very small group of scholars who have published academic translations of Daoist scriptures, and both have more than twenty years of experience training graduate students in Daoism. To cover adequately the broad range of texts in our chrestomathy, we will bring in as consultants three foreign experts, Dr. Chang Chaojan 張超然 of Fu Jen University (Taiwan), Dr. Hsieh Shu-wei 謝世維 of National Chengchi University (Taiwan) and Dr. Muruyama Hiroshi 丸山宏 of Tsukuba University (Japan). All combine extensive fieldwork with a deep familiarity with Daoist texts.

We are looking for scholars, young and old, who want to know more about Daoism and are prepared to participate actively in three weeks of intense immersion into the world of Daoist texts. We will take appropriate breaks and your weekends will be free (with perhaps a voluntary activity or two in surrounding communities), but we will spend the great majority of each day, five days a week, in a circle, reading together and discussing a wide swath of Daoist literature. You will need to be competent in literary Chinese, since our texts are largely unpunctuated—some hand-written—and reference works are few. You should be comfortable in modern Chinese, since some of the discussion of meaning with our consultants will occur in Chinese. You need not have any background in Daoism at all, but you will have to convince us that you want to integrate it into your future work. We are able to accept sixteen Summer Scholars for this seminar; most must be faculty teaching in an American college or university, but we are able to accept up to two advanced graduate students. You also must be an American citizen or permanent resident, or have resided in the U.S. for the last three years (see the Eligibility tab for details).

If you are interested in the Seminar, begin by contacting Terry Kleeman at Participants will receive a stipend of $2,700 to help defray the costs. The application deadline is March 4. See the Application Procedure tab for more details about how to apply.

N.B.: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.