Cloned Buddhas: Mapping out the DNA of Buddhist heritage preservation

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This article considers how technological innovation transforms the value of religious materiality and memory in Buddhist heritage reproduction projects in Japan. To illustrate the religiously and politically charged landscape of heritage care, I focus on the reproduction technologies developed by the Tokyo University of Arts researchers to create highly precise replicas of Buddhist heritage. One such ‘super clone’ replica of Japan’s National Treasure homed at Hōryūji temple in Nara — a 1400-year-old “Shaka Triad” sculpture of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha — was put on display at the Nagano Prefectural Art Museum in Japan in April 2021. The ‘cloned’ statue is a highly precise copy that goes beyond the practices of exact duplication. With the use of 3D measurement, digital modelling technologies, and advanced casting techniques, this cloned religious heritage object transports the viewer back in time to the aesthetic moment of creation and allows them to experience anew the object’s affective presence as crafted centuries ago. In drawing on this example and its potential to intervene in other religious heritage reproduction projects globally, I argue that technology spatio-temporally transforms religious heritage to generate alternative socio-economic afterlives of Buddhist materiality in-between past-present-future devotional and heritage worlds. In doing so, the hi-tech religious heritage care interventions distance heritage objects from the religious contexts and demand different regimes of valuation in reproduction that allow to reimagine the value of the past while obscuring the affective value of decay. By analysing the scientific narratives and processes of heritage care, I show how the religious heritage reproduction is where the aesthetic, political, and economic dimensions of Buddhist material futures are imagined and realized. It is also a space of contestation between devotion, science, and memory-oriented practices of care in transnational heritage preservation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCultural Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - Buddhist heritage, heritage 'cloning', Super Clone Cultural Properties, heritage reproduction, heritage preservation, the Shaka Triad, heritage scientification, religion and heritage, Japanese Buddhism, heritage in Japan, Buddhist materiality, Japan

ID: 366380230