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BIO: Christopher Callahan, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Japanese Religions
Christopher Callahan, a scholar of Japanese religions and Buddhism, completed his B.A in Philosophy at Washington and Lee University and two Masters degrees in Asian Religions and in Japanese Literature at the University of Hawai’i before receiving his Ph.D. from the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University in 2011. Dr. Callahan is interested in religious biographies and the role that they play in the “life” of religious communities. His doctoral research at Harvard focused on the narrative and ritual representation of the life and thought of Shinran, the purported founder of Jôdo Shinshû (“The True Sect of Pure Land”) Buddhism, particularly in the illustrated hand scroll (emaki) biographies produced by Shinran’s great-grandson, Kakunyo. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Japanese Religions and Culture at USC, Dr. Callahan is revising his Ph.D. dissertation, Kakunyo and the Making of Shinran and Shin Buddhism, for publication as a book. He is also teaching an undergraduate course on Japanese Religions in Fall 2013 and on East Asian Religions in Spring 2014.
While illustrated hand-scrolls (emaki) biographies of Buddhist figures in medieval Japan have been mined by historians in their efforts to uncover the historical lives of the figures represented and examined by art historians in terms of their production, style, and imagery, little attention has been given to the ritual context in which they were produced performed and viewed. By returning such biographies to this ritual context of production and reception, we are able to then re-read such “biographies” attending to their performative dimensions, showing how they not only narrate the life of a figure, but structure the ritual experience of a community. This paper will re-examine the Illustrated Biography of Shinran (1173-1262) by Kakunyo (1271-1351) by first situating them in the ritual context of the thanksgiving memorial services (hôonkô) for which they were produced and then by offering a close reading of both text and images that demonstrates how the text allows the ritual participant to “see” Shinran as Amida Buddha.