Edward Slingerland


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

To rule by ritual: the theorization of ritual psychology in the bamboo texts of Guodian (2017)

This study examines the development of a theory of ritual psychology in Chinese political thought during the Warring States period (c. 450 - 221 BCE), as found in four Confucian bamboo manuscripts from the Guodian corpus which were discovered in 1993 in a tomb that had been sealed in c. 300 BCE. These four texts, called here the Ritual Authority manuscripts, provide new evidence of a political theory that applied ritual practices to the management of the state, with implications for our understanding of both the development of the Confucian tradition and of the formation of the early Chinese empire. The introduction surveys how the concept of ritual has been framed in studies of Chinese history, and argues that this new evidence of a conscious theorization about ritual psychology should compel us reexamine this topic. Chapter One makes use of the insights offered by the cross-disciplinary field of Ritual Studies to create a working definition of “ritual” as an academic term of analysis, and then examines a range of primary sources from the Warring States period in order to reconstruct the discursive field of meaning encompassed by the Chinese term li, or “ritual propriety,” which was the focus of this theorization. Chapter Two considers the implications of the previous chapter’s insights by examining how ritual practices rely on a sense of historical authority, which embroils these practices in a larger tension between tradition and innovation. Chapter Three examines the development of theories of political authority in the Warring States period, and shows how these presented a fundamental challenge to the Confucian emphasis on ritual practices. Chapter Four turns to the Ritual Authority manuscripts from Guodian and closely examines how they reveal an attempt to incorporate a theory of ritual psychology into a defence of traditional ritual practices. This study finally concludes by considering the larger implications of this intellectual innovation, and suggests several possible directions of future research based on this research.

View record

Echo of the Master, Shadow of the Buddha: the Liezi as a Medieval Masters Text (2016)

The present work examines the Chinese Masters Text the Liezi, purported to be composed in the 5th century BCE, though more likely achieving its current form in the 4th century CE. It situates the claims Liezi in the intellectual and spiritual climate of 4th century CE in its role as a member of the Masters Text category, and reads the text's ontological and normative program in light of the flourishing xuanxue and prajñāpāramitā discourse of that era. Chapter One traces the evolution of the Masters Text category from the Warring States period, through the Han dynasty, and into the early medieval period, relying on the understanding of “Masters Text” offered by Wiebke Denecke in her Dynamics of Masters Literature (2010). I argue that textual authority accrued by this category serves as a sufficient impetus to create such an inauthentic document in approximately 350 CE. Chapter Two reviews the most recent contributions to the debate over the authenticity of the Liezi, and concludes that the text is certainly a 4th century CE compilation, though containing some earlier material. Chapter Three is a concise survey of the ontological and normative position of the text, with a chapter by chapter analysis of the Liezi. Chapter Four uses this analysis of the Liezi to compare the thought therein with contemporary thinkers such as Wang Bi, Guo Xiang, Ruan Ji, and Xi Kang. I conclude that the Liezi was likely compiled in an effort to argue for the ontological scheme of Wang Bi against that of Guo Xiang, and that it does not explicitly follow Ruan Ji or Xi Kang in advocating for the pursuit or practice of longevity techniques. Chapter Five compares notions of “Nonbeing” and “emptiness” in the Liezi to Buddhist speculations on “emptiness” unfolding in China up to and during the 4th century CE. I conclude that despite frequent speculation on the part of modern and pre-modern commentators, there is little conceptual alignment between the Liezi and the developing Buddhist schools.

View record

Skilled Eating: Knowledge of Food in Yichu's Shishi Liutie, a Buddhist Encyclopedia from Tenth-Century China (2015)

A common approach in studies of food and religion is to understand food taboos as emerging out of a symbolic system based on notions of the sacred. Religion is understood in this view to construct meaning on the basis of symbolism, which is grounded in sacred authority. In Chinese Buddhist discourse on eating contained in a tenth-century Buddhist encyclopedia, however, in place of food taboos one finds a doctrine of equanimity and moderation in eating. Using the Chinese Buddhist encyclopedia Shishi liutie as source, I argue that Chinese Buddhists framed the morality of eating not by sacral authority but by a notion of skill. This theoretical frame describes Buddhist ethics generally: kuśala (Ch. shan 善) is that which is skillful because it is wholesome, good, virtuous, or meritorious; and akuśala (Ch. bushan 不善) is that which is unskillful, because it is unwholesome or lacking in virtue. Viewing morality as a problem of skill helps explain the variation of interpretations on how to best eat as a Buddhist, which are found in different Buddhist writings. Buddhist teachings on food are provisional forms of knowledge rather than authoritative pronouncements. Most central to Buddhist attitudes on food in the Shishi liutie are proper knowledge and proper attitude––both of which allow individuals to skillfully obtain the benefits of eating while avoiding pitfalls such as gluttony and illness. By highlighting skill over sacral authority, I question the commonly held notion that religious knowledge is by definition fundamentally symbolic. In medieval China, Buddhist knowledge of eating was practical and provisional, evolving with society to meet contemporary needs.

View record

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Development of the sage-king narratives: idealized concepts of rulership in warring states Chinese thought (2013)

The purpose of this thesis is to investigate how contemporary scholarship interpreted sage-kings (聖王) narratives, commonly used in Warring States and Chinese philosophical texts to represent particular visions of ideal rulership, in their understanding of the historical and political contexts of the development of early Chinese intellectual history. Another aim is to find out how these narratives changed over time, and how they revealed the different political concerns of the Warring States philosophers. This project uses a primarily historiographical approach and first surveyed the works of leading scholarship in the field that discusses the use of the sage-kings. Then, two particular narratives are examined in order to demonstrate their evolution over time. The first of these sage-king narratives was on the taming of the great flood by Yu 禹 and the rise of human civilization; the second was on the abdication of Yao 堯 to Shun 舜 and the issue of legitimacy in the transfer of political authority. The results of the study shows that even though contemporary scholarship recognizes the importance of the sage-king narratives in understanding political concerns in the history of early China, and the evolution of these narratives over time, there is no consensus in the methodology best used to systematically integrate them. This thesis also concludes that that the sage-kings were used not just as political ideals by texts like the Analects, the Mozi, the Mencius, and the Xunzi, but were also often consciously constructed by the authors of these texts to fulfill this precise role. Furthermore, the results indicate that the sage-kings were also used as counter-narratives by the Zhuangzi and the Hanfeizi, as a way to criticize and undermine those texts that were proponents of the sage-kings. The principal conclusion of this thesis is that sage-kings narratives are more complex and multifaceted than previously thought and deserve a more nuanced and historically aware analysis in future research.

View record

Metaphors for thinking in modern Mandarin Chinese: a corpus study (2012)

This paper studies the system of conceptual metaphors for thinking in Modern MandarinChinese. It looks into the frequency, types of metaphors and the ways they are realized in Language.The present research concentrates on five commonly used words for thinking, namely 想 xiang, 认 ren,觉 jue, 觉得 juede, and 认为 renwei. The expressions about thinking used in the research are takenfrom spoken and non-spoken Modern Mandarin Chinese corpora. All examples were reviewed andmetaphorical examples were identified and classified according to the metaphor types as distinguishedby Lakoff and Johnson 1999. Series of research done in the sphere of cognitive science proved thatsome expressions about thinking are generally structured by conceptual metaphor based on the sourcedomain of our embodied experience. However it was unclear how often metaphoric expressions areused in language compared to the non-metaphoric ones. The paper also looks into the difference inmetaphor use in spoken and non-spoken Mandarin Chinese, metaphors of heart and head as the locusof thinking in Chinese.The research has shown approximately every fifth common expression about thinking ismetaphorical, while container and path metaphor are most widely used to talk about thinking.Moreover, a large number of metaphors in expressions about thinking are realized throughgrammatical patterns, such as resultative constructions, and are generally not perceived asmetaphorical. The results suggest that possibly different types of metaphor dominate in thinkingexpressions in Chinese and other languages. The research also indicates that in learning and teachingChinese as a foreign language, conceptual metaphor awareness is necessary for grammar literacy andlanguage proficiency, since a large number of fixed metaphoric constructions are realized in grammar.Generally the paper suggests that while most metaphors for thinking are universal, there are oftendifferences in the frequency and the ways to use the metaphors. Thus such cultural variations can oftenresult in different conceptualizations of an abstract concept or higher sensitivity to one type ofmetaphor but not the other.

View record

Embodying Perfection: The Figure of the Sage in Thought of Zhuangzi , Xunzi and Han Feizi (2011)

The term shengren 聖人 or “sage” represents an ethical and philosophical ideal in Early Chinese thought. Because it denotes the perfected individual the sage can be seen as embodying the core values of the philosophy in which it appears. This thesis uses the concept of the sage to analyze the most prominent negative and positive evaluations of the Zhuangzi, Xunzi and Han Feizi. As well, it uses the three different conceptions of the sage to compare the texts, highlighting common themes and debates between them. By placing these three different works within a common conceptual framework, this study provides an alternative to post-Han dynasty classifications. Chapters two, three and four will explore the value systems of Zhuangzi, Xunzi and Han Feizi respectively. Chapter five will then compare the three texts to investigate general similarities as well as the shared themes of internalism versus externalism, anthropocentrism and the sage’s role, as well as the sagely characteristics of agency, creativity and adaptability.

View record

An Investigation into the Guodian Laozi (2010)

This thesis is focused on the recently discovered archeological text called the Guodian Laozi (also known as the Dao De Jing). The Guodian edition is the oldest known copy of the text, and it is surprisingly different from the received edition. It is ostensibly 'incomplete' and confusingly 'disordered.' Many 'characteristic' themes are absent. The majority of the material is focused on rulership, but it is not discussed in traditional terms or sequence. In addition, previously-unseen material, called Taiyishengshui or 'The Great One Gives Birth to Water,' was appended to it, which included a previously unseen cosmology. Scholarly debate continues as to the nature and purpose of both the Taiyishengshui and the Guodian Laozi as a whole. This thesis ties together archeology, philosophy, history, and cognitive science to support the idea that the Guodian Laozi was meant to be a tool for rulership, and specifically used for instructing the crown prince Qingxiang of Chu, who was preparing to assume the throne near the end of the Warring States. Since the dominant theme of the Guodian Laozi appears to be rulership, I developed a new lens through which to read it, based on the embodied experience of Verticality, which includes the entailments of power and authority. Section 1 introduces the text and explains why the Guodian Laozi is considered such an extraordinary find. Section 2 discusses the theories proffered by various scholars as to why the Guodian Laozi was found in such an unexpected state, and gives evidence for why the Taiyishengshui should be considered an integral part of the text. Section 3 explicates my own theory as to the nature of the Guodian Laozi, and shows how the dating of the material, as well as the philosophical contents of the material, support that thesis. In Section 4, I employ conceptual metaphor theory and blending theory to create a new lens through which to read the Guodian Laozi. In Section 5, I apply the new lens to the text, showing that this new lens reflects the philosophical contents of the Guodian edition better than the more traditional lens of yin and yang.

View record

The experience of knowing: Illusion and illumination in the Zhuangzi and the Platform Sktra (2010)

This paper aims to compare and contrast the concepts of “delusion” and “knowledge” as found in the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi and the Platform Sūtra. Employed in this analysis is the methodology of conceptual metaphor analysis, a method that identifies the source domain for metaphors employed in the dissemination of both doctrine and mystical experience. By acknowledging their metaphorical entailments, such metaphors can be used to more clearly elucidate the meaning of said disseminations. Ultimately I will argue that both works exhibit a similar conception of the afflictions of “non-enlightened” persons and the cognitive abilities of “enlightened” persons, though they arrive at different conclusions regarding the source of these abilities.Part one of this paper will introduce the methodology of conceptual metaphor analysis as developed by Lakoff and Johnson, and will illustrate the ways this methodology can serve the pursuit of studies in comparative religion. Following this background information relevant to the interpretation of both the Zhuangzi and the Platform Sūtra will be given. Part two investigates the metaphors and “realization” moments found in the Zhuangzi. Part three uses similar methodology to analyze the Platform Sūtra. The final part compares and contrasts the two works.

View record

The Foundations of Chinese Logic (2010)

Chad Hansen’s interpretations of Warring States (475 B.C. – 221 B.C.) Chinese logic have long dominated the field. While Hansen has had his critics, there has been a general acceptance of many of his important contributions. In addition, the development and criticism of his interpretations have generally tended to create further confusion over the key philosophical concepts in Chinese logic. Among Hansen’s many contributions to the field of Chinese logic a few are foundational to the study of logic: one, that Chinese thought has no concept of truth; two, that Classical Chinese nouns are analogous to mass nouns in English; three, that, because Chinese philosophy is nominalistic, it has no role for abstract theories like essences, Platonic forms, or ideas; four, that Chinese ontology is mereological and without a concept of membership or class. Using Hansen’s body of work this thesis provides a critical reexamination of the foundations of Chinese logic. It ultimately demonstrates that, contrary to Hansen’s theories, Chinese thought can be plausibly interpreted to have the following characteristics: first, there is a concept of truth that may be identified as a ‘naïve correspondence theory of truth’ in Later Mohist thought; second, nouns in Classical Chinese are neither mass nouns nor count nouns; third, some concept of ‘essence’ plays an important role in Xunzi’s thought; and, fourth, that Chinese thought, in general, has a notion of class and class membership. These conclusions are demonstrated by using a dual methodology of pluralism and embodied cognition to interpret key claims by important Warring States thinkers.

View record


Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations



If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Discover the amazing research that is being conducted at UBC!