The role of Buddhism in the emergence of religion and medicine in medieval China

Michael Stanley-Baker

Postdoctoral Research Fellow,

Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte


The emergence of medicine and religion as discrete intellectual institutions in medieval China was a long process that spanned the turbulent centuries of China’s medieval Six Dynasties period (220 – 589 CE). Prior to the appearance of a central medical authority in the seventh century, doctors participated in more mixed competition, where proselytizers, priests and healers of different stripes offered their services to all manner of social sectors. A key leitmotif to this competition was the Daoist notion of embodied salvation, influencing both pharmacology, and setting the scene for multivariate approaches to health and well-being.  The arrival and increase in activity of Buddhist medical proselytizers from the third and fourth centuries created subtle shifts in local priorities, as local Chinese adapted to and incorporated Buddhist or Indian ideas and practices. At the level of practice, individual healers used methods and techniques of all stripes, conflating attempts to define Buddhism, and Daoism and medicine as discrete enterprises. Yet over time, subtle shifts in Daoist and Imperial bibliographies show the emergence of medicine and religion as separate, but overlapping concerns.


Oslo Buddhist Studies Forum
Published Jan. 13, 2015 12:57 PM - Last modified Mar. 29, 2016 2:40 PM