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University of Pittsburgh

Chinese Courses

1071 Saints East and West

Credits: 3


This course is a comparative study of “sainthood.” While saints in the narrow, religious sense—in Christian, Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist traditions—is the main focus, we broaden our scope to also include other figures of exemplarity, such as communist heroes and people who take unconventional ethical actions. We define a saint broadly as a life lived with exemplarity. Every culture in every age has its own notion of what constitutes an exemplary life, and we may think of it as a response to the particular set of conditions or crises that the age faces. Thus the notion of “sainthood” not only changes with dominant cultural values, but is also necessarily ambiguous. Materials include philosophical works (e.g. Mencius, Nishitani), fables (e.g. Zhuangzi), autobiographic narratives (e.g. Saint Teresa of Avila, Simone Weil), as well as films (e.g. Bresson, Dreyer).