Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Editors' Introduction: Engi: Forging Accounts of Sacred Origins

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Editors' Introduction: Engi: Forging Accounts of Sacred Origins

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Within Japan's immense corpus of religious literature, engi ?? constitute an enduring and vexed bodies of texts. According to the most widely accepted etymology, the word engi first entered Japanese usage as a translation of the Buddhist term prat?tyasa?utp?da (dependent origination), which designates the doctrine that all phenomena come into existence due to causes and are therefore devoid of permanence or essence.1 Another school of thought maintains that the term engi originated as a translation of nid?na, one of twelve recognized modes or ?limbs? (a?ga) of classical Buddhist discourse (see Ab?'s essay in this issue). Within canonical and para-canonical Buddhist literature, nid?na has a fundamentally narrative quality in that it ?may be used to index where, when, why, and/or how a teaching is transmitted? (Nance 2012, 225, note 27). Of course, etymology need not govern subsequent uses of a word, yet the causal and narrative valences of prat?tyasa?utp?da and nid?na do resonate with the ways in which Japanese engi tell stories about how things came to be as they are. During the eighth century, the term engi was appropriated as a descriptor for accounts of the founding of temples and the ordinations of monks and nuns. Over time, the label came to be applied to a wide range of textual and visual materials, especially those narrating the histories of religious institutions. In contemporary usage, such accounts are known by the scholarly neologism jisha engi ... . Materials of this sort are the primary focus of this special issue. In order to delimit a manageable scope for the present project, we have focused on premodern texts and images; this choice fits with our own expertise and training. Nevertheless, early modern, modern, and contemporary materials form an important part of the engi corpus and are the subject of a growing body of Japanese-language research.2 We hope that this special issue will help to encourage new research and reflection, for there is ample scope for further work on engi.

Engi may be defined in a narrow sense as accounts of the origins of religious institutions, but over the course of their long history, they developed into a capacious, porous category that not only contrasted but also overlapped with other textual and visual types, such as property registers (ruki shizaicho ... ) or illustrated biographies (eden ... ). In formal terms, engi in general and jisha engi in particular vary significantly. Some are paintings, while others are unillustrated texts. Although they tend strongly toward narrative forms of representation, they also embrace ritual instructions, lists of various kinds, or other components that, taken individually, are very unlike engi in the narrow sense.

This endemic diversity raises the question of how-and even whether-engi should be defined. As a definitional strategy, we might seek to identify a single, defining characteristic as a criterion for determining whether or not a particular text or image belongs to the category of engi; to do so, however, would create problematic exclusions. Precisely because monothetic (that is, single-criterion) definitions are so rigid and limiting, they have been amply critiqued in the field of religious studies (for example, Smith 1982). It is more helpful to imagine engi in terms of a plural set of characteristics, some but not all of which will be found in any particular engi. One may thus expect that varying degrees of similarity (and divergence) will obtain among engi, after the fashion of Wittgensteinian family resemblances. Engi A (for instance, the Mino'odera engi ... examined by Kawasaki Tsuyoshi in this issue) may bear some resemblance to engi B (for example, the Yuzu nenbutsu engi emaki ... analyzed by Takagishi Akira), whereas engi C (the noh drama or sutra frontispiece considered by Ryuichi Abé) may seem very different indeed. We favor this more flexible approach to delimiting engi and assessing the relationships among them because it accommodates variation among the ways in which engi have been composed and construed. …

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