Elon University / Today at Elon / Pamela Winfield publishes a chapter on Buddhist “art”, museums

Winfield, professor of Buddhist studies at Elon, offers an examination of the “tensions and tactics” of displaying Buddhist visual culture.

Buddhist Studies professor Pamela Winfield has contributed to “Secularizing Buddhism: New Perspectives on a Dynamic Tradition,” edited by Richard Payne and published by Shambhala Press. His chapter on “Curating Culture: The Secularization of Buddhism Through Museum Display” examines the tensions and tactics involved in exhibiting Buddhist visual culture in modern museum spaces.

He first critically examines the ideological divide between the sacred and the secular that reduced powerful Buddhist icons to aesthetic objects within Euro-American collections of 19th-century Asian “art”.

However, he then also examines how Japanese Buddhist temples in particular persevered through periods of persecution, preservation, and paradox, as they eventually set up temple “treasure rooms” (hōmotsukan) that replicated the very types of Western-style museums that had looted their temple. treasures a century and a half ago. If the 19th century transferred the temple to the museum, then the 20th century transferred the museum to the temple grounds.

She concludes that American and Japanese museums must be understood as hybrid spaces, where the supposed boundaries between sacred and profane are porous and continually negotiated by diverse audiences.