Doctoral School “Buddhism and Medicine in East Asia”, June 28-July 2, 2021

Abstract: This specialist course will focus on an interdisciplinary approach to the intersection of religion and medicine in medieval and late imperial East Asia, with a particular focus on Buddhism. As a religious and cultural tradition with transnational scope, Buddhism played an important role in circulating medical knowledge around Asia. This course focuses on this history from the perspectives of Religious Studies, History of Medicine, Sinology, and Translation Studies.

Level – Target audience

PhD students with a background in Chinese studies and/or in Chinese religions or in the history/anthropology of medicine. A good knowledge of pre-modern and modern Chinese language is expected for the students attending the classes requiring a sinological background.

Organising & Scientific Committee

  • Contact persons: prof. Ann Heirman, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Department: Languages and Cultures, E-mail: and
  • prof. Christoph Anderl (Department: Languages and Cultures – East Asia), Ghent University
  • prof. Andreas Niehaus (Department: Languages and Cultures – East Asia), Ghent University


Between 150 and 1100 CE, Buddhism played a central role in introducing Indian medicine to East Asia. This historically represented a relatively discrete corpus of health-related knowledge, relatively unintegrated into East Asian medicine and often ignored in mainstream medical historiography. Nevertheless, Buddhist sources are critical to understanding the history of medicine in medieval East Asia, and it is not an exaggeration to say that this corpus offers one of the most voluminous sources of textual evidence for the transregional communication and reception of medical ideas in first millennium CE Asia that is available anywhere. Buddhist ideas and practices deserve more attention than they have received thus far from Sinologists and scholars of East Asia. This course is meant to introduce young scholars to this exciting emergent field, and to give them the tools to enter into this arena of scholarship.

Objectives and learning outcomes

The course is to provide intensive training for doctoral students with a background in East Asian history, Chinese studies, Chinese religions, Buddhist studies, history of medicine, and/or history of science. Half of the course is dedicated to lectures, and the other half to interaction with students, including a presentation of their dissertation projects, text readings, discussions, and the screening of documentary films. The course is meant to provide students with an insight into the intersection between Buddhism and medicine in East Asia. In detail, the course aims:
1) to enhance students’ understanding of the intersections between religion and medicine in the pre-modern world;
2) to provide new insights into the role of Buddhism in cross-cultural exchange of science, medicine, and technology;
3) to provide students with a knowledge of the practice of Buddhism and healing in contemporary Chinese and diasporic communities;
4) to enhance the students’ presentation competences
5) (for the sinological group) to improve students’ skills in classical Chinese through the reading of examples of Chinese Buddhist literature.

Dates and Program

From Monday 28 June to Friday 2 July 2021 (details see program hereunder)

  • Monday, June 28, 2021: Orientations

10:00-10:30: Welcome Greetings*
10:30-12:00: Buddhist medicine in a global context (Pierce Salguero)*
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-16:00: Presentation of current research projects/questions by all participants (moderated by Leslie de Vries)*

  • Tuesday, June 29, 2021: Medieval China

10:00-12:00: Buddhist healing in medieval China (Pierce Salguero) *
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-15:30: Health and bodily practices in Chinese Buddhist monastic practice (Ann Heirman) *

  • Wednesday, June 30, 2021: Cross-cultural movements and translations

10:00-12:00: Buddhism and medicine in transit (China, Japan, Vietnam) (Leslie de Vries)*
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-15:30: Analysis of medieval Chinese practices of translation (Pierce Salguero)**

  • Thursday, July 1, 2021: Primary Text Readings

10:00-12:00: Text reading: “On Eliminating Disease” from Sūtra of Golden Light (Pierce Salguero)**
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-15:30: Text reading: “Buddhism and scholarly medicine: A selection of passages from the medical literature” (Leslie de Vries)**

  • Friday, July 2, 2021: Integrating Research and Teaching

10:00-12:00: Film screening and discussion: Buddhist healing in a contemporary diasporic community in North America (Pierce Salguero)*
12:00-13:30: Lunch Break
13:30-16:00: Open discussion about integrating research and teaching based on this seminar (moderated by Andreas Niehaus)*

* Lectures also suitable for a general audience (no Sinological background needed)
** Sinological background needed




  • C. Pierce Salguero, Penn State University (Abington College)

Contact details: ; 302 Sutherland Bldg., 1600 Woodland Rd., Abington PA 19001 USA.
Pierce Salguero is a transdisciplinary medical humanities scholar who is fascinated by historical and contemporary intersections between Buddhism, medicine, and cross-cultural exchange. He has a PhD in History of Medicine from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (2010), and a Master’s Degree in East Asian Studies from University of Virginia (2005).
Thus far, Pierce Salguero has produced an academic monograph on medieval China, an edited volume on China and Japan, a two-volume collection of translations from around the world, thirteen peer-reviewed academic articles and book chapters, and a number of other translations, encyclopaedia entries, and public scholarship projects on various aspects of Buddhism and medicine in East Asia. A second monograph, a global history of Buddhist engagements with health and healing, is under contract with Columbia University Press. He has become well known as a leading specialist in this field through his publication projects, various online professional networks, as well as through his frequent organization of and participation in conferences, workshops, and collaborative online projects. His editorial work with the journal Asian Medicine has also been important to the academic world, and he became the Editor-in-Chief in 2016. He has been invited to present his research at many prestigious American universities, as well as internationally in Canada, England, Germany, Korea, and Taiwan. His research has been recognized by fellowships from humanities centers at the University of Pennsylvania (2011–12) and Duke University (Fall 2013), and has been funded by Fulbright (2008–09), the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation (2009–10), the National Research Foundation of Korea (2015–17), University of Leipzig (2017), and various awards from Penn State.


  • Leslie de Vries, University of Kent

Contact details: ; Department of Religious Studies, SECL, Cornwallis North West, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NF, United Kingdom. Leslie de Vries is a historian of religion and medicine in East Asia. He holds a PhD degree in Oriental Languages and Cultures (Ghent, 2012). From 2013 to 2015, he was a Research Fellow in the Wellcome Trust funded project “Beyond Tradition: Styles of Practice and Ways of Knowing in East Asian Medicine, 1100 to the present” at the University of Westminster. Since 2018, he is a Lecturer in East Asian Studies at the University of Kent.
Leslie de Vries is a leading scholar researching the intersections of medicine and religion in East Asia during the late imperial/early modern period. In his forthcoming monograph, The Thread that Runs Through Medicine: A Style of Practice in Seventeenth-Century China (Berghahn), and earlier journal articles, including “The Authentic Man as Ideal for the Late Ming Dynasty Physician: Daoist Inner Alchemy in Zhang Jiebin’s Commentary on the Huangdi neijing” (Synthesis Philosophica 2014) and “The Dangers of ‘Warming and Replenishing’ (wenbu 溫補) during the Ming to Qing Epistemic Transition” (Asian Medicine 2015), he focused on medicine and the Three Teaching (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism) in China. Leslie de Vries is also one of the very few specialists researching Vietnam’s pre-modern medical history. In this field, he published “The Dồng Nhân Pagoda and the Publication of Mister Lazy’s Medical Encyclopedia” (2017) and “Vietnam in the Premodern Period” (forthcoming). Work in progress include research on Buddhist trajectories of medical knowledge transmission from China to Vietnam and Japan in the aftermath of the Ming-Qing transition. As a leading expert, Leslie de Vries is frequently invited to specialist workshops at renowned institutions (Oxford, Cornell, Max Planck Munich, Heidelberg, …). He organised and co-organised international academic conferences (Kent, Michigan) and acts as Book Review Editor (China) for Asian Medicine.

Registration fee

Free of charge for PhD students of the Doctoral School of Arts, Humanities and Law at Ghent University


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Teaching materials

Reading materials (required readings and suggested readings), electronic sources, and the source texts to be translated in class will be (electronically) provided to the participants prior to the course.

Number of participants

Maximum 20

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

100% attendance (sinological group 20 hrs, non sinological group 16 hrs); active participation (text reading, individual presentations by doctoral researchers, discussions).