Session Abstract: In the tenth century, Japanese clerics invented liturgical genres in the vernacular, which contributed to the spread of Buddhism across all social strata. One of most popular new genres was wasan 和讃 (Japanese hymns). Over the centuries, many Buddhists composed hundreds of works in this genre. Still today, monastics and lay devotees sing Japanese hymns to express their devotion, to pay respect to eminent monks, or to ask deities for protection.
This panel showcases the long-lasting impact of this liturgical genre in various traditions and social contexts, with a focus on wasan performed by lay devotees. The papers demonstrate that while the genre is characterized by a continuity in formal features, particular wasan nonetheless reflect unique ideas and practices of diverse sectarian or local groups. The first paper explores Shinran’s popular hymns and demonstrates how Shinran used various methods to engage lay followers with the content and the forms of the hymns, such as explanatory notes and instructions for their performance. The second examines how the Japanese Hymn on Kakuban served to instruct lay devotees about Kakuban’s life and doctrinal ideas. The third studies wasan that women chanted to gain salvation from the Blood Bowl Hell and to obtain safe childbirth and protection of their children. The final paper explores the religious motivations that led to the invention of new hymns for lay choirs in the Sōtō school in the 20th century. In this way, the presenters illuminate the genre’s diverse social and institutional contexts, as well as performance practices.
Paper Presenter: Christopher T. Callahan – University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign
Paper Presenter: Matthew Hayes – University of California, Los Angeles
Paper Presenter: Lori Meeks – University of Southern California
Paper Presenter: Michaela Mross – Stanford University