5. Framing the Other: Mindfulness, Photography, and Comparative Religions

Teaching Awareness in the Buddhist Tradition - Essays in Honour of Professor Corrado Pensa - Chiara Neri

Filippo Marsili [+-]
Saint Louis University
Filippo Marsili (PhD from UC Berkeley) is Associate Professor of History at Saint Louis University. His research focuses on cultural translation and the impact of Greco-Roman historiography and Abrahamic traditions on contemporary conceptualizations of early Chinese realities. His Heaven is Empty: A Cross-Cultural Approach to “Religion” and Empire in Ancient China (SUNY Press 2018) offers a reconceptualization of Chinese experiences of the sacred before the arrival of Buddhism. His current project rethinks European discourses on institutionalized violence in light of early Chinese mythological and historiographical narratives concerning the relationship between the state, individuals, and communities.


This essay documents the ways in which Corrado Pensa’s approach to mindfulness was essential in the development of a new methodological attitude towards the study of the sacred in ancient China. During my first research trip to China among the ethnic minorities of the southwestern region of Yunnan during the mid-nineties, I realized how my training in classic art and civilizations prompted me to elaborate photographic compositions that responded to non-indigenous aesthetic and cultural priorities. After applying mindfulness to the very process of image production, I was able to trace back my “individual creative choices” to specific intellectual expectations, which were in turn intrinsic to the ethnocentric context of my academic upbringing. Thereupon, I began to translate the practice of systematically breaking down visual criteria of inclusion and exclusion into my doctoral comparative work on early Chinese experiences of the “sacred.” In doing so, I programmatically questioned the projection onto Asian realities of systemic, identity, and exclusionary approaches to religion, which are typical of most Abrahamic traditions. In conclusion, this contribution shows how the application of mindfulness to the heuristic processes of historical inquiry can be a necessary step towards the problematization of ethnocentric biases and recovery of emic perspectives.

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Marsili, Filippo. 5. Framing the Other: Mindfulness, Photography, and Comparative Religions. Teaching Awareness in the Buddhist Tradition - Essays in Honour of Professor Corrado Pensa. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Oct 2023. ISBN 9781800503311. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=44244. Date accessed: 26 Nov 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.44244. Oct 2023

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