Katherine Alexander

2014
This year, I hope to finish my dissertation on baojuan (precious volumes), a genre of popular Chinese religious performance literature. In particular, my dissertation focuses on a sub-category of baojuan that related tales about the lives of virtuous lay believers for the edification of functionally literate and illiterate religious devotees. There was an explosion in the publication of these baojuan after the cataclysmic Taiping War (1850-1864), which laid to waste great swathes of southern China and left twenty to thirty million Chinese dead. Conservative moralism rooted in the idea of karmic rewards and retribution experienced a revival in response to the war. The repopularization of earlier baojuan and the creation of new ones were part of the reconstruction of social order. I hope to answer questions such as: What was demanded of the characters in these stories to earn their exemplarity in traditional religious culture? How did lay believers, from across the spectrum of popular religion, embody their piety on a daily basis?  
 
I am incredibly honored and excited to be a Junior Fellow and participate in the seminar this year. The seminar gives me the opportunity to emerge from my lonely study and engage in dialogue with other scholars studying religion, placing my work in broad context. I look forward to stimulating, illuminating discussion and to the support the seminar will provide me as I teach, both next year, and through all my years of teaching to come.