[ndlr] Annonce d’un colloque sur les textes bouddhistes de l’ancien Viêt-Nam.
BUDDHIST LITERACY IN EARLY MODERN NORTHERN VIETNAM
Presented by Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey & The Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation
Recent work from a number of quarters has scrutinized the notion of “East Asia,” as a cosmopolitan zone unified by shared script, literary language, and educational traditions. Vietnam’s inclusion in modern mappings of “Southeast Asia” has often obscured its critical membership in an East Asian cultural zone, a fact that has limited potentially fruitful comparative work with Korea, China, and Japan. One of the most important features of East Asian cultural construction was the role of Buddhism in the dissemination of script, cosmopolitan language, and literate knowledge — a phenomenon particularly important to second millennium Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, each of which suffered crises in literacy at different points, due to invasion or internecine war. While comparison of Buddhist literacy in Korea and Japan has enjoyed a relatively robust tradition (especially with recent work on shared glossing techniques such as kunten), comparison with Vietnam has been limited by areal and disciplinary boundaries that are more artifacts of academic history, than substantive contours defining the cultures in question.
Our symposium seeks to break down these artifical barriers by examining a set of religious texts now housed at Thắng Nghiêm and Phổ Nhân, two syncretic Buddhist temples located 15 km southwest of Hanoi, in northern Vietnam. The collection was gathered from the surrounding region by the current abbot beginning in 1997, and represents a diverse library of primarily secular xylographic and epigraphic texts, composed over the latter half of the 2nd millennium, and written in both Literary Chinese and vernacular Vietnamese “ Chữ Nôm” (an extinct character script used to represent vernacular Vietnamese, until its replacement by the Latin alphabet in the early 20th century). As one contributor points out, these texts are remarkable for their pedestrian character, providing a uniquely mundane portrait of literacy in early modern northern Vietnam. These texts were recently digitized through the groundbreaking efforts of the Vietnamese Nom Preservation Foundation (VNPF), making the entire collection accessible to scholarly examination for the first time.
Catalyzed by the VNPF’s work, our project seeks to break new ground by staging a multidisciplinary investigation into the phenomenon of literacy, and its dissemination through the Buddhist institution. The enclosed abstracts seek to explore the nature of print culture as maintained and conducted by early modern Buddhist temples, its relationship to the court, and its philological practices and traditions, as well as its relationship to folk and non-literate traditions of religious practice. Additionally, our symposium includes a special panel on issues of digitizing the Buddhist canon — work that is foundational to all cutting edge research into premodern East Asian textual culture. These inquiries illuminate not only a sorely understudied aspect of Vietnamese history and culture, but also promise fruitful comparison with Japan, Korea, and China, on issues of Buddhism and literacy, classical education, and the rise of the vernacular.
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