Paul Copp, “Deity Seals in the Securing of the Dead (First Centuries CE)”

Please join us on Wednesday, November 8, from *5:15-7:00pm CT* at CWAC 152, for our third meeting of the quarter, featuring:


Paul Copp

Associate Professor in Chinese Religion and Thought, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, UChicago

Who will be presenting the paper

Deity Seals in the Securing of the Dead (First Centuries CE)”


Discussant: Zhenru Zhou

Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University

Please note that there is a pre-circulated paper for this workshop, available here under the password “sealed”.

If you wish to join on Zoom, please register at this link (password: 000000).

*Please also note the slightly later start time of this workshop due to an event hosted by the Japanese Art Society of America and featuring Chelsea Foxwell at 4pm CT, related to the exhibition “Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan” (please find more information about this webinar at the end of this post).

We look forward to seeing you in CWAC 152!




This is a chapter from an in-process book titled *The Ritualist’s Seal: Object, Practice, and Knowledge in China, ca 100 – 1000 CE.* The book covers materials from Eastern Han tombs to Dunhuang manuscripts, making an argument for the importance of seals in Chinese religious history, the ways they transformed both material ritual practices and philosophical conceptions of the nature of reality (and of the human relationship with it) in both Buddhist and Daoist texts. The chapter I’d like to present is a study of the earliest appearances of ritual seals in China: in Eastern Han tomb assemblages for the “securing of the grave” 鎮墓, whether as actual seal matrices or sealings, or as descriptions in texts included in the assemblages. It’s based in archaeological reports and seal collections (mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries), but also draws heavily on both art historical and environmental historical studies. Among other things, the paper argues that seals were not—as they have usually been understood—the seals of local human ritualists, but instead the seals of deities placed in the tombs in order to make present their powers and intentions.


Paul Copp teaches in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism, and the co-editor (with Wu Hung) of Refiguring East Asian Religious Art: Buddhist Devotion and Funerary Practice. His paper for the workshop is drawn from his current book project, “The Ritualist’s Seal: Object, Practice, and Knowledge in China, ca. 100 – 1000.

Zhenru Zhou is a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. She recently received a Ph.D. degree in art history from the University of Chicago. She specializes in premodern Buddhist art and architecture in China and along the eastern silk roads.


*At 4pm CT, there will be a live zoom webinar “Exhibiting Meiji Art and Culture: Curatorial Perspectives”, in which Professors Bradley Bailey, Chelsea Foxwell, and Takuro Tsunoda will be giving individual presentations on Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan and the exhibition The Development of Visual Culture in the Meiji Era recently held at the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya and discuss their challenges, goals, and future aspirations for exhibiting Meiji art. This event is hosted and sponsored by the Japanese Art Society of America (JASA). Please click here to register for the Zoom event.


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