Playing the patriarch: Representation and transformation in the Zen Sermon

Erez Joskovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In this paper I discuss the characteristics and meaning of the abbot's sermon in the Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition. Using ethnographic data, viewed in light of performance theory, I contend that it is possible to go beyond the boundaries that have characterized previous scholarly understandings of Zen ritual (action/insight, social/mental, and formalism/authenticity). Accordingly, I demonstrate that the sermon serves as an arena for social interaction, and enforces institutional order, but at the same time, it also serves as a transformative medium that changes the participant's state of being. Finally, I contend that performance theory articulates an inherent connection between realization and enactment, as well as awakening and its manifestation; thus, it has the potential to shed new light on our current understanding of Zen practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-493
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Religion
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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