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RELIGST 8N: Gardens and Sacred Space in Japan

Course Description

Gardens and sacred spaces play an important role in many cultures and religions. In Japan, for example, gardens at Buddhist temples represent Buddhist ideas and cosmological concepts. Holy mountains, such as Mt. Fuji, are worshiped by devotees, and pilgrims visit these mountains in order to pray to deities. In the last century, Japanese gardens have become popular in North America and Europe, and such gardens were built in many larger cities and private homes as places of tranquility.

This seminar will explore these kinds of places in Japan. We will study the development of various Japanese garden designs from the earliest records to contemporary Japan. We will especially focus on the religious, aesthetic, and social dimensions of gardens and sacred spaces. For this aim, we will read secondary literature and primary sources in translation as well as analyze pictorial representations of Japanese gardens. Through presentations, working in small groups, and a field trip to a garden in the area, you will gain an understanding of the basic aesthetic concepts used in Japanese garden design, as well as an appreciation of how Japanese garden design has been adapted in North America. In addition, you will have acquired a basic knowledge of Buddhism and Shintō, and an understanding of how these religions have shaped Japanese garden design and the religious activities surrounding sacred spaces.

Meet the Instructor: Michaela Mross

Michaela Mross

"Before starting my position as assistant professor for Japanese Buddhism in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford, I was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. I completed a Ph.D. in Japanese Studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich with a dissertation on Zen rituals. I studied over six years in Tokyo, Japan. My research focuses on Japanese Buddhism, rituals, and sacred music.

"I fell in love with the beauty of Japanese gardens when I first visited Japan many years ago. I also visited several of the sacred mountains that were so important for the medieval monks I have studied, and I myself could feel that these places were conducive to religious practices."