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Models and Mischief-makers: Rewriting Monastic Biographies for Children

Natasha Heller UVA
Thursday, September 19, 2019
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Natasha Heller, University of Virginia

What can present-day children learn from the stories of monks from centuries past? And how can stories of eminent Buddhists be adapted to appeal to modern sensibilities? Looking at picture books published by Taiwanese Buddhist organizations, this talk will discuss how tales of famous historical monks are retold, and how they are situated in the context of modern childrearing. Monks are presented as embodying personal characteristics worthy of emulation, and the selection of monks shows how Buddhist exemplars might be imagined for a global age. But these books also add fun and mischief, often by showing monks when they were young boys, before they entered into religious life. Examining the choices made in adapting monastic biographies for children provides a window into the motivations and strategies of contemporary Buddhist youth education.

Natasha Heller (Associate Professor, Religious Studies, University of Virginia) studies Chinese Buddhism in the context of cultural and intellectual history. Her research includes both the pre-modern period (10th through 14th c.) and the contemporary era. Her current book project concerns picture books published by Buddhist organizations in Taiwan, and how such children's fiction not only teaches young people about the Buddhist tradition, but also addresses how to relate to clergy, family members, and society.