Jonathan Pettit, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chinese Religions
Office: Sakamaki Hall A-306
Office Hours: Mondays 9am–11am and Thursdays 1pm-2pm, or by appointment.
E-mail: jeep [at] hawaii.edu
Background and Research Interests
I was raised in southern Indiana among fields of genetically modified corn and hills of deep limestone caverns. I began studying Japanese in middle school, and had my first homestay in Japan as a freshman in high school. As an undergraduate student, I switched from Japanese to Mandarin Chinese, a decision that led to studying abroad in China and Taiwan. During my stay in Taiwan, I first encountered the seemingly endless variety of Chinese religious traditions. I was fascinated by how temple communities consulted many different kinds of scriptures. And new sacred texts were revealed all the time, which meant that these books I found at a temple might change from one visit to the next.
My interest in the production of Daoist and Buddhist scriptures (and everything in between) led me to ask questions about its historical development. As a graduate student, first at the University of Colorado at Boulder and later in Indiana, I studied the scriptural traditions of medieval China. My dissertation examined the lives of Buddhist and Daoist leaders in the fourth and fifth centuries, with a particular emphasis on Tao Hongjing, a polymath famous for writing about drugs, meditation, and ritual. With the aid of Fulbright, Luce/ACLS, and Chiang Ching-kuo Foundations, I was able to engage in extensive overseas research in China and Taiwan.
Since graduating in 2013, I have lectured at UC Berkeley and Purdue University. While at Purdue, I was also the Associate Director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society where I was a co-PI on a large grant to support research on contemporary Chinese religions. I also led study tours of eastern China and Greater Tibet.
Currently, I continue to work on the production, circulation, and reproduction of early Daoist scriptures. I recently completed a book with Chao-jan Chang of Fujen University that explores how Daoist scriptures were altered and changed over time. This book will be published by UH Press early next year. I am also working on another book that examines the changing notions of the “world” in early Daoist geographical texts. In addition to these historical studies, I have also done extensive field research in Taiwan on sectarian groups such as the Yiguan Dao, and have published articles on their dissemination in China and Taiwan.
In addition to reading about religions in China/Taiwan, my students at UH learn about the religious practices of Chinese immigrants in Hawaiʻi. Currently, students in my Understanding Chinese Religions course are working on a documentary about Daoist, Buddhist, and Chinese Christian communities in Hawaiʻi. Students in my World Religions course are collaboratively making a map of all religious communities in Hawaiʻi. I welcome interested students at UH-Mānoa to contact me about possibilities for collaboration.
- Dual Ph.D. Indiana University, April 2013 (Religious Studies and Chinese Literature)
- M.A. University of Colorado at Boulder, May 2004 (Chinese Literature)
- B.A. Indiana University, May 2001 (Chinese Language and Literature)
Library of Clouds: A Bibliographic History of Daoist Scriptures. Forthcoming, University of Hawaiʻi Press
This forthcoming book is a bibliographic history of Upper Clarity (Shangqing 上清) scriptures in the fourth and fifth centuries. The dating and authorship of the Three Wonders (sanqi 三奇), texts that are obviously later fabrications, have proven to be a difficult puzzle for scholars to solve. We address this problem by drawing on the insights of Biblical scholars, and argue that we should look not only within the scriptures, but also study the texts surrounding their transmission. We conclude that the Three Wonders emerged in debates among late fifth century exegetes concerning the authentic transmission of the Upper Clarity scriptures.
- “The Many Faces of the Golden Sire: Books and Readers in the Early Yiguan Dao,” in Journal of Chinese Religions 44.1: 35–72, 2016.
Yiguan Dao (YGD) is a millenarian religious community that quickly grew into one of the largest and most influential temple movements in 20th century China. Although scholars have examined the meteoric rise of YGD in the 1930s, its origins in the late 1910s and 1920s Shandong province are relatively unknown. This neglect is partly due to a lack of original data; all that survives of the early YGD community are eschatological scriptures composed during early 20th century séances and hagiographies written in 1970s Taiwan. While none of these documents are objective representations of the early YGD, this author argues that analyzing these texts side-by-side leads to new insights into the activities, ideas, and charismatic leaders of this religious movement.
- Co-PI on “Mapping Chinese Spiritual Capital” grant (Templeton Foundation)
- Chiang Ching-kuo Fellow (2010–11)
- Luce/ACLS Fellow (2009–10)
- Fulbright Fellow (2008–09)
Courses Regularly Offered
- REL 150 Introduction to the World’s Major Religions
- REL 203 Understanding Chinese Religions
For complete course descriptions see UH Mānoa Course Catalog