Courses / Fall 2019

Fall 2019

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    Course Number: HA 134C | CCN: 30986

    Buddhist Images in the Modern & Contemporary World

    Gregory Levine

    Tuesday | Thursday: 9:30 - 11:00am

    This course explores the Visual Cultures of Buddhist Modernism, namely the forms, things, materials, places, ideas, and powers associated with Buddhist visual images in diverse circumstances and communities of the global modern and contemporary world. Images of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and meditating monks abound in art history courses, museum galleries, and popular and consumer cultures. Often, they seem timeless in visual form and stable in meaning; sometimes they may strike us as absurd, hyperbolic, or offensive. When studied critically in relation to modernity and late modernity, Buddhist visual and material works frequently defy easy categorization, provoke debate, and raise questions about inter-faith and inter-visual/cultural encounter, orientalism and cultural appropriation, diasporic communities and visual traditions, nationalism, artistic subjectivity, and so forth. A cascade of questions might include the following:
    • When, how, and why is an image of a Buddha or other Buddhist deity an icon, a living presence of the divine? When is it a spiritual, art, commercial, or historical thing?
    • How have premodern Buddhist images fared under colonialism and amidst global war and global capitalism?
    • How do museums mediate Buddhist icons?
    • How have traditional Buddhist iconography and philosophy informed modern and contemporary art making?
    • Who is a “Buddhist artist” and what is “Buddhist art” in the modern-contemporary world?
    • What about Buddhism and film; Buddhist body art; Buddhism and haute couture?
    • What should we make of commercial and entertainment appropriations of Buddhism and Buddhist imagery? This Upper Division course takes up the multiplicity of Buddhist visual-material things in the modern-contemporary world and their diverse, and not always comfortable or consistent meanings, audiences, and circumstances of production, appropriation, and consumption. The class incorporates student research projects throughout the semester and demands a high level of preparation and participation. Although there is no pre-requisite (HA134A, B, for instance), students without familiarity with art history or Buddhist studies will want to reinforce their study with suggested background reading.

    This course fulfills the following Major requirements: Geographical areas (E), and Chronological period (III). 

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