Abstract: In this talk titled “Debunking Myths About Early China: Realizing the Benefits of Science-‐Humanities Consilience” I will draw upon debates in Asian and Religious Studies concerning the existence of mind-body dualism in early China as an example of how general insights and specific techniques drawn from the natural sciences can be useful to humanities scholars. For instance, findings about the nature of human cognition can serve as hermeneutical limit setters when it comes to interpreting texts from ancient or alien cultures, imposing some brakes upon the humanistic tendency to impute radical strangeness to the cultural “Other.” Similarly, techniques of large-scale textual corpus sampling and coding can supplement the qualitative intuitions of experts in a given field with quantitative data; with the advent of a new age of “digital humanities,” the potential power of such analyses is already enormous and continually growing. I will conclude by emphasizing the importance of valuing both directions in the science-humanities exchange, and by providing an example of how one venerable issue in religious studies is being examined with renewed vigor precisely because scholars in both the sciences and humanities are learning to ignore or transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries.
Edward Slingerland is associate professor of asian studies at The University of British Columbia, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Chinese thought and embodied cognition. His research focuses on Chinese thought in the Warring States period and cognitive approaches to the study of religion.