Dominic Steavu

Associate Professor
Ph.D, Stanford University
Chinese Religions and Chinese Buddhism
HSSB 2253

My area of specialization is Chinese Religions, with a focus on the “esoteric” traditions of medieval Buddhism and early medieval Taoism. Broadly speaking, I am interested in how trends or developments in Chinese intellectual history were reflected in the discourse of various religious traditions. More pointedly, I aim to uncover the ways in which soteriological narratives or techniques, particularly those that translate into bio-spiritual disciplines known as “nourishing life” (yangsheng), mirror evolving sociopolitical contexts, scientific discoveries, and medical achievements. As these often involve the use of tangible instruments and concrete objects such as talismans, cosmographs, or elixirs, material culture and even iconography are important facets of my work. One of the recurring themes in my research and teaching is the circulation of knowledge across what are often imposed or constructed analytical boundaries, between, for instance, statecraft and religion, science and belief, medicine and ritual, and Taoism and Buddhism. Many of these distinctions are vestiges of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment anti-clericalism, classificatory frenzies, and political theory; as a result, some of my work examines early modern representations of China and the central role of religion in the formulation of Orientalist discourses and their subsequent re-appropriation by East Asian societies.

I am currently preparing a monograph that will deal with the incorporation of elements from medicine, proto-chemistry, astronomy, cosmological sciences, but also bureaucratic and administrative strategies in religious currents between the 4th and 8th centuries. The book will chiefly rely on data from the Taoist Three Sovereigns (Sanhuang) tradition and a selection of esoteric Buddhist texts. I am also preparing a co-edited volume on embryological, gestational and reproductive imageries in East Asian religions in addition to a number of articles on medicine, divination, and therapeutic/self-cultivation techniques in Taoism and Buddhism.



Transforming the Void: Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Symbolism in East Asian Religions. Co-editor, with Anna Andreeva. Leiden: Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, Brill (2016).


Medieval History Journal 17.2 (October 2014)

Special issue on “The Literary Subversive: Writings of Resistance in East Asian History,” edited by Dominic Steavu


Selected Articles:

  • “The Marvelous Fungus and The Secret of Divine Immortals.” Micrologus 26 (2018): 353–383. pdf
  • “The Allegorical Cosmos: The Shi 式 Board in Medieval Taoist and Buddhist Sources.” In Michael Lackner, ed., The Place of Mantic Practices in the Organization of Knowledge, 196–232. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2018. pdf
  • “Apotropaic Substances as Medicine in Buddhist Healing Methods: Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Five Sciences.” In Pierce Salguero, ed. Buddhism and Healing in East Asia, 441–453. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. pdf
  • “Buddhism, Medicine, and the Affairs of the Heart: Potency Therapy (Vājīkarana) and the Reappraisal of Aphrodisiacs and Love Philters in Medieval Chinese Sources,” East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine (EASTM) 45 (2017): 9–48. pdf
  • “Cosmos, Body, and Meditation in Early Medieval Taoism.” In Anna Andreeva and Dominic Steavu, eds., Transforming the Void: Embryological and Reproductive Symbolism in East Asian Religions, 111–146. Leiden: Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, Brill, 2016. pdf
  • “Backdrops and Parallels to Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Imagery in East Asian Religions.” Co-authored with Anna Andreeva. In Anna Andreeva and Dominic Steavu, eds., Transforming the Void: Embryological and Reproductive Symbolism in East Asian Religions, 1–50. Leiden: Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, Brill, 2016. pdf
  • “Delocalizing Illness: Healing and the State in Chinese Magical Medicine.” In Helene Basu and William Sax, eds., The Law of Possession: Ritual, Therapy, and the Secular State, 82–113. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. pdf
  • “Cosmogony and the Origin of Inequality. A Utopian Perspective from the Wunengzi.” Special issue on “The Literary Subversive: Writings of Resistance in East Asian History,” Medieval History Journal 17.2 (2014): 295–335.  pdf
  • “A Brief Overview of the Role of Intellectuals in Resistance.” Special issue on “The Literary Subversive” Writings of Resistance in East Asian History,” Medieval History Journal 17.2 (2014): 195–206. pdf
  • “The Many Lives of Lord Wang of the Western Citadel: A Note on the Transmission of the Sanhuang wen (Writ of the Three Sovereigns),” Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies 13 (March 2009): 109–161. pdf

Review Articles

  • “Taking Form in Response to Stimulus: Recent Publications in Taoist Studies, A Field in Motion.” Asiatisches Studien/Études asiatiques 63.4 (2013): 1081–1101.
  • “Recent Publications in Daoist Studies,” Cahiers-d’Extrême Asie 17 (2008) [2010]: 341–355.

Courses Taught:

  • Introduction to Chinese Buddhism
  • Introduction to Taoism
  • Introduction to East Asian Culture (Premodern)
  • Classical Chinese I
  • Classical Chinese II
  • Science and Medicine in Buddhism and Taoism
  • Western Misrepresentations of Asia
  • Sex, Drugs, and Meditation in Taoism and Buddhism
  • Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in China
  • Religious Literature in China: Buddhist Texts
  • Religious Literature in China: Taoist Texts