Event — Buddhist Studies Lectures

Pleasure and Fear. On the Uneasy Relation between Indic Buddhist Monasticism and Art

A lecture by Henry Albery (PhD LMU), Post-doctoral Fellow at Ghent University, Belgium, in the framework of the IIAS/LIAS Buddhist Studies Lectures Series.

This lecture takes place in the IIAS conference room from 15:00 - 16:00 p.m. Amsterdam Time (CEST); it will not be streamed or recorded. 

Everyone is welcome to attend. However, we kindly ask you to register as seating is limited.

The Lecture

Art is paradoxical in inducing both pleasure and fear; just as it is desired by some, it is equally feared by others. Such aesthetic power has, throughout history, produced a perpetual dialectic of affirmation and negation, of creation and destruction, the respective justifications for which are likewise found repeated in quite similar forms. This presentation shall consider the problems posed by decorative and figural art from one episode in this tale; namely, when Buddhist monks of the Indic Northwest (eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan) around the turn of the Common Era made the decision to introduce art into monasteries, despite their ideological rejection of cultural assumptions regarding the aesthetic experience of such objects. Their decision led to confrontations with monastic law and praxis and the attempt to resolve these in monastic legal codes. Tracing the historical relation between monasticism and art in this context, this presentation focuses on two such uneasy relations. The first deals with the worldly aesthetics of pleasure associated with art and fashion and the aesthetics of asceticism as a representation of monasticism’s renunciate ideal. The second considers the aesthetics of fear associated with images of deities, the rejection of such objects as signs, and the resulting acts of theft and iconoclasm monks enacted upon them. It will show that resolution to both was sought in a particular semiotic which negated the aesthetic experience of such objects and rendered them signs with a significance that accorded with Buddhist ideology. Yet the solution remained incomplete, with issues arising when the same ideology was applied to monasticism’s own representation in the art of monasteries, stūpas and Buddha images.

The Speaker

Henry Albery completed his PhD in Indologie und Religionswissenschaft at Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität München in 2020, with a thesis entitled Buddhism and Society in the Indic North and Northwest, 2nd century BCE-3rd century CE, focusing on the social and political history of Buddhism as gleaned primarily from donative inscriptions. Since then, he has been a Junior Postdoctoral Fellow at Ghent University with a project entitled Avadāna as Analogy: A Study of Buddhist Law, Logic and Narrative, dealing with the emergence of the avadāna narrative genre in the Indic Northwest and the usage of analogical narratives (e.g., precedents, similes, metaphors) as an epistemic strategy in monastic legal codes (vinaya) and South Asian philosophy.

Buddhist Studies Lecture Series

This is a lecture in the framework of the Buddhist Studies Lectures Series, jointly organised by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) and the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).  


Registration is required as seating is limited. Please use the web form on this page.