Special lecture: Guanyin’s limbo: Interrogating the agency and personhood of deity statues


Birks Building 3520 rue University, Montreal, QC, H3A 2A7, CA

A special lecture: Guanyin’s limbo: Interrogating the agency and personhood of deity statues, by Professor David Palmer.

David Palmer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong. He holds a B.A. in Anthropology and East Asian Studies from McGill, a M.Phil. in Clinical Psychology/Medical Anthropology from University of Paris-VIII, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology of Religion from Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Sorbonne, Paris).

"In this paper, we apply concepts from the recent ontological turn in anthropology to interrogate the agency and personhood of ‘idols,’ man-made statues of deities. Using the case of statues of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in Hong Kong, we follow the life-course of the statues, considering their production, circulation, animation, and disposal. These ethnographic observations of the material and social lives of Guanyin statues lead us to use the concepts of prototype, distributed personhood, and dividuation, to map out the relationship between Guanyin as a singular deity and her myriad objectifications in the form of statues and images, as well as the unique persons that emerge from each statue through its interactions with different humans as well as different places and other deity statues. In a highly but not fully secularized metropolis such as Hong Kong, Guanyin statues are ambiguous and contested – they may be seen as demi-persons, neither fully persons nor fully objects.”