Levan Institute for the Humanities Book Chats—Sonya Lee, Temples in the Cliffside: Buddhist Art in Sichuan

A discussion of Sonya Lee's recent book, Temples in the Cliffside: Buddhist Art in Sichuan (University of Washington Press, 2021). The author will be joined in conversation by Wendi Adamek (University of Calgary) and Tamara Sears (Rutgers University), moderated by Joshua Goldstein (USC). Co-sponsored by the USC East Asian Studies Center and the USC Center for the Premodern World.

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About the Book: At sixty-two meters the Leshan Buddha in southwest China is the world’s tallest premodern statue. Carved out of a riverside cliff in the eighth century, it has evolved from a religious center to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination. But this Buddha does not stand alone: Sichuan is home to many cave temples with such monumental sculptures, part of a centuries-long tradition of art-making intricately tied to how local inhabitants made use of their natural resources with purpose and creativity. These examples of art embedded in nature have altered landscapes and have influenced the behaviors, values, and worldviews of users through multiple cycles of revival, restoration, and recreation. As hybrid spaces that are at once natural and artificial, they embody the interaction of art and the environment over a long period of time.

This far-ranging study of cave temples in Sichuan shows that they are part of the world’s sustainable future, as their continued presence is a reminder of the urgency to preserve culture as part of today’s response to climate change. Temples in the Cliffside brings art history into close dialogue with current discourse on environmental issues and contributes to a new understanding of the ecological impact of artistic monuments.


About the Author:  Sonya Lee is Professor of Art History, East Asian Languages and Cultures and Religion at the University of Southern California. She is also the director of East Asian Studies Center at the university. A specialist in religious art and architecture of China and Central Asia, Dr. Lee has published widely on the material culture of Chinese Buddhism. Her research interests also include material culture of the ancient Silk Road, art and ecology, Asian art collecting, and heritage conservation. 


Open to attendants outside of USC. An excerpt of the book will be made available to registered attendants. Registration before the event is required. 

This event is part of the Levan Institute for the Humanities' “Book Chats” series, conversations about new books published by USC scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. To see more events in this series, including recordings of past events, visit https://dornsife.usc.edu/levan-institute/book-chats/.


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