Research Project


Spirit Writing and the Uncertainly of the Future in Late Imperial China

Prof. Dr. Elena Valussi

Spirit writing in China is a religious practice that connects a person, or more often a community, gathered around an altar, to a specific divinity, in an effort to respond to personal requests, to seek positive outcomes and for general moral guidance. Seeking a personal connection with the divine word in the form of written communication is a long standing Chinese religious practice. Scholars have described the formation of early Daoist scriptures through divine revelations as examples of written communication between the divine and earthly worlds. Recent research has revealed the centrality of spirit writing to the development of religious culture for the late imperial period, its ubiquitousness and multifariousness. My first research goal is then an introduction to spirit writing in the Qing period. This is of tremendous importance for the recovery of late imperial culture in general and of its religious culture in particular. My project will attempt to answer the following questions: How did communities form around altars and around specific divinities? What are the questions posed to the divinity at the altar? Who are the divinities that are mostly linked to this specific practice? Given that this practice was widespread, are there regional differences in terms of the composition of communities, the questions asked, the divinities accessed, the scriptures that resulted from these sessions? Can we describe the relationship between the medium and the divinity, and between the community and the divinity in a more systematic way?

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