The Tale of Genji is arguably the quintessential work of classical Japanese literature. Written in the 11th century by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, it provides a vivid glimpse into the pre-modern Japanese courtly life. In this lecture, Professor Alessandro Poletto takes us into the world of Heian Japan by discussing healers who populated the time of Genji, specifically onmyōji, court officials responsible for divination and geomancy, and esoteric Buddhist monks.
Speaker: Alessandro Poletto, PhD, Lecturer in East Asian Religions, Washington University in St. Louis
Alessandro Poletto (he/they) specializes in the social and religious history of premodern Japan, with an emphasis on Buddhism in the early medieval period (tenth to the thirteenth century). He earned his PhD from Columbia University in 2020 with a dissertation entitled “The Culture of Healing in Early Medieval Japan: A Study in Premodern Epistemology,” in which he examined discourses and practices concerning healing and disease, with particular attention to the relationship between Buddhist healers and other technicians involved in the treatment of illness, namely court physicians and onmyōji. His other research and teaching interests include the understanding and ritual resolution of natural disasters in premodern East Asia, the history of the cultural exchanges between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago, and Buddhist material culture and archeology in East Asia.
His current research focuses on the material and textual dimensions of various types of deposits — within statues or under the ground — in order to get a grasp of Buddhism as practiced by lay Buddhists in early medieval Japan