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Taking stock of responsible investment research from ASU faculty

Taking stock of responsible investment research from ASU faculty
Taking stock of responsible investment research from ASU faculty


June 30, 2022

It is one thing to study the materials used in religious or ritual practices, but it is quite another to study the Material who composes these elements. This is exactly what Beiyin Deng, a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Arizona State University, is researching for her dissertation.

Deng studies the circulation, transport and trade of marble from Myanmar used to create Buddhist imagery. It focuses on trade from Myanmar to China from the 1890s to the present day.
Beiyin Deng is seated on the right facing the camera and talking with a craftsman.
Beiyin Deng (right) interviews a craftsman during field research in China.
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After earning her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Fudan University in Shanghai and her master’s degree in religious studies from New York University, Deng spent three years away from academia and worked as a project assistant for interfaith projects, traveling across Southeast Asia and returning to China to work in the outbound tourism industry.

During her travels as an exchange student in Taiwan, her observation and participation in many Buddhist activities made her curious about the religion’s engagement with modernity and secularism in different cultural and social contexts. .

But it was during a trip to Myanmar in 2014 that she really became interested in the daily practices of Buddhism and the interactions between Buddhism and politics in Burmese society.

From my perspective, these transnational and cross-cultural Buddhist material transactions challenge many entrenched assumptions in Buddhist studies and area studies, as they have fostered Buddhist connections that transcend many different vectors of identity, including the ethnicity, nationality and, above all, sectarian affiliation. said Deng.

Beiyin Deng with white marble behind her.  She is holding a pair of flip flops and wearing a yellow dress.

Beiyin Deng is a doctoral student in anthropology of religion.

Knowing that Juliane Schober, director of the Asian Research Center and professor of religious studies in the ASU School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studiesis a scholar of the subjects she was interested in, Deng applied to ASU’s Doctor of Religious Studies program.

(Dengs’) work is innovative because it crosses many disciplinary boundaries between religious studies, anthropology and history; regional ones between Southeast and East Asia; religious between Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism; and ethnicity between Myanmar and China, said Schober, who serves as Dengs’ thesis chair. I’m sure it will receive a lot of scholarly attention once the thesis is completed.

Since joining the PhD program in 2016, Deng has traveled to the Chinese cities of Sichuan, Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian, Yunnan and now Ruili to conduct field research.

The original purpose of these trips was, on the one hand, to locate the marble Buddha images that were transmitted by Chinese monks from Myanmar to China between the 1890s and 1930s based on my archival research and, on the other hand, to observe their state of preservation in museums and Buddhist temples and sacred mountains and to collect documents on their biographies, Deng said.

During her travels, she discovered the popular practice of donating Myanmar marble Buddhist images to Buddhist temples across China from the 1980s to the early 2000s. She was also able to visit marble mines in Beijing, Hebei and Sichuan in China, and the famous Chinese Buddhist image carving centers in Quyang and Huian.

I talked with Chinese marble quarry owners and marble workshop owners, observed the various properties of marble stones quarried from different places, and listened to peoples’ interpretations of these properties and their differences, Deng said. . These experiences enriched my knowledge of the Buddhist image market in China, allowed me to compare the raw materials with those of Myanmar and deepened my understanding of the enchantment that Burmese marble arouses among Chinese Buddhists.

Deng is currently conducting field research in Ruili, China, which opened its borders in early June this year.

I had been waiting for this opportunity since arriving in China last August, Deng said. I’m really excited to be returning to the neighborhood I used to research before the pandemic.”

After completing this stage of her fieldwork, she plans to travel to Beijing for additional archival research before returning to the United States to complete her dissertation.




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