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Book: Teaching Awareness in the Buddhist Tradition

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

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.44244


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.

Chapter Contributors

  • Filippo Marsili ( - fmarsili) 'Saint Louis University'