The second half of the 6th century CE represents an important period for Chinese Buddhism. In the years 577/578, the faithful suffered persecutions of the secular state of Zhou. At the same time, monks made great progress in the translation of Buddha’s writings during this period, which led to a completely changed understanding of his teaching. Originally from India, the religion was then adapted in many aspects to the indigenous tradition. This historical development was reflected in unique stone inscriptions. Some of the sacred texts were carved into the rock in laborious work and in signs up to 3 metres high, while others inscriptions were integrated into the architectural design of cave temples. With this ‘net’ of stone inscriptions, the Chinese Buddhists created the most culturally historically significant monuments in northern China at that time.
The Research Centre’s task is to document these stone inscriptions, some of which have only been rediscovered in recent years, in a complete and systematic manner. The stone inscriptions have been preserved over the centuries, especially in the provinces of Shandong, Henan, and Hebei. The scholarly analysis of the historical and biographical information of these texts, together with their commentaries, sheds a new light on the sinization of Buddhism. It is also of particular interest that the texts are embedded in different spatial contexts. They impart a sacred character to the landscape: monumental stelae proclaim the sacred texts, steep cliffs become places of meditation, and large boulders mark pilgrimage paths ascending the mountain.
The project is based on international cooperation, especially with Chinese scientists, who for some years have been turning more and more to questions of the history of religion. There are also close ties with Japanese scholars who continue the excellent Buddhological tradition of their country. Interdisciplinary, researchers from the Department of “Geoinformation Science” at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences (FH) are involved in the project to clarify the topographical situation of the carved texts. They create not only an overview plan of all inscriptions, but also 3D models of the inscription locations, which enable computer based viewing and reading of the monuments.