James Benn

Buddhism and the Invention of Tea Culture in Tang Dynasty China (618–907 CE)

  • Time: Thur 18 May 2017, 17:00-19:00
  • Venue: Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia, 2nd floor seminar room
  • Organisation: Birgit Kellner


The dramatic change in Chinese drinking habits that occurred in the eighth century CE cannot be understood without considering the crucial role of Buddhist ideas, institutions, and individuals in creating a new culture around the consumption of tea. This lecture looks closely at the surviving artistic, material, and literary evidence for Buddhist involvement in the invention of a Chinese tea culture during the Tang dynasty.


James A. Benn was trained primarily as a scholar of medieval Chinese religions (Buddhism and Daoism). His research is aimed at understanding the practices and world views of medieval men and women, both religious and lay, through the close reading of primary sources in literary Chinese—the lingua franca of East Asian religions. He has concentrated on three major areas of research: bodily practice in Chinese religions; the ways in which people create and transmit new religious practices and doctrines; and the religious dimensions of commodity culture. In particular he has worked on self-immolation, Chinese Buddhist apocrypha, and the religious and cultural history of tea. He is the author of Burning for the Buddha: Self-immolation in Chinese Buddhism (University of Hawai'i Press 2007) and Tea in China: A Religious and Cultural History (University of Hawai'i Press 2015).