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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 1.2 (2018): 202–230;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhist Arts)

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Shamans, Mediums, and Chinese Buddhism: a Brief Reconnaissance

Barend J. TER HAAR
University of Hamburg

Abstract: In traditional China, Buddhism was not a separate religious tradition or culture practiced in isolation from the rest of Chinese religious culture. This applied not only to people outside the monastic context, but also to people within that context. Even shamanic and medium practices could take place within a Buddhist context. Shamanic is here defined as spirit travel or communication whilst the practitioner stays him- or herself, whereas a medium would be possessed and temporarily become the other spiritual being. Finally, future research should look at the way in which these practices may have been influenced and/or partially replaced by other forms of contact with the divine or supernatural world, such as dreams and visions.

Keywords: shamans, mediums, Buddhism


About the Author: Barend J. ter Haar previously taught at the universities of Leiden, Heidelberg and Oxford. Since 2018 he has been teaching Chinese social and religious history at Hamburg University. He works broadly on local religious culture, lay Buddhism, and stereotyping of religious groups, as well as the role of violence in Chinese culture. He recently published a monograph entitled Guan Yu: The Religious Afterlife of a Failed Hero (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2017) and a book entitled Religious Culture and Violence in Traditional China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). He is now completing a monograph on the fear of witchcraft in Chinese history. In the future, he plans to work on a social history of orality and textuality, whether in the form of articles and/or separate monographs.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.