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Robert F. Campany earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1988. He is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Languages and Cultures at Indiana University, where he has taught since 1988. His book on the origins of the Chinese marvel tales known as zhiguai, titled Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China, was published in 1996 by State University of New York Press.

 

Abstract of paper given at Taoism and Ecology conference
Ingesting the Marvelous: The Taoist's Relationship to Nature According to Ge Hong (283-343 C.E.)

Sorting out the implied "ecology" of Ge Hong and his tradition is no simple matter. To some extent, that ecology was one of transformation and ingestion: the earth was conceived as a fecund source of life-forms which, if harvested, carefully processed, and consumed, conveyed great benefits on the adept. The natural environment was not thought of as subject to depletion by humankind, or as needing special protection from humans. That was, in part, because nature admirably protected itself. It was the adept who needed talismanic protection when venturing into the wild. We might say that Ge Hong's implied ecology was an esoteric one, in that it imbued nature with an aura of sacrality and restricted access to its secrets. No stage of the gathering, transforming, and ingesting process could be safely undertaken without detailed knowledge of the esoteric procedures revealed in texts which were themselves closely guarded. From one perspective, Ge Hong's Taoism can be seen as making daring forays into the arcana of Earth and Heaven; from another, he can be viewed as radically dependent on Earth's resources for the most essential part of his religious work.

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