April D. Hughes

Jun 25, 2021

Worldly Saviors and Imperial Authority in Medieval Chinese Buddhism

University of Hawaii Press 2021

What is the relationship between Buddhism and politics? How might Buddhism be realized in this world? And how might Buddhist texts help legitimate new rulers? These questions are ably addressed in April Hughes’s Worldly Saviors and Imperial Authority in Medieval Chinese Buddhism (University of Hawaii Press, 2021). Students of Buddhism are familiar with Wu Zhao, or Wu Zetian, the only woman in Chinese history take the title of “emperor,” and her use of Buddhist ideas and imagery to support her claims to rule. Hughes sets Wu Zhao within a longer history of “worldly saviors,” figures who fuse political and religions authority. Through close readings of apocryphal scriptures, Hughes shows how the “worldly savior” incorporates elements from the traditions of Wheel-Turning King and buddhas and bodhisattvas to address the needs of a world in chaos. Along with Wu Zhao, Hughes discusses rebel-monks and the founder of the Sui dynasty, Yang Jian. Worldly Saviors and Imperial Authority in Medieval Chinese Buddhism helps us to better understand the religio-political landscape of medieval China.

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