Dominic Steavu

Dominic Steavu
Ph.D, Stanford University

Associate Professor

Specialization: Daoism and Chinese Buddhism

Office: HSSB 2253

My area of specialization is the history of Daoism and Chinese Buddhism, with a focus on the history of medicine. Broadly speaking, I am interested in how trends in material culture and intellectual history were reflected in the practices of various Daoist and Buddhist traditions. More pointedly, I aim to uncover the ways in which therapeutic or bio-spiritual disciplines mirror evolving sociopolitical contexts, scientific discoveries, and medical achievements. As these often involve the use of concrete substances or tangible ritual objects, my work thus far has focused on talismans, elixirs, cosmographs (divination boards), and mushrooms.

More recently, as an extension of my interest in the relationship between ideas and their embodiments, I have been looking at utopian narratives or idealized representations and their relationship to material realities. In this context, I am preparing a critical annotated translation of The Incapable Master (Wunengzi), a utopian medieval Daoist treatise on political philosophy that supplies concrete suggestions for implementing its vision. I am also working on a project that examines largely Jesuit-derived Enlightenment-period representations of Daoism and Buddhism, and how these, through a series of intriguing distortions, resulted in unexpected yet familiar elements of globalized contemporary life such as postural yoga, the ouija board, or the free market system.

Research Fields

  • Daoist Studies
  • Buddhist Studies
  • History of Ideas/Intellectual History
  • History of Medicine
  • World/Global History
  • Material Culture


The Writ of the Three Sovereigns: From Local Lore to Institutional Daoism. New Daoist Studies 1. Honolulu HI: University of Hawaii Press, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2019.


Transforming the Void: Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Symbolism in East Asian Religions. Co-editor, with Anna Andreeva. Leiden: Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, Brill (2016).


Medieval History Journal 17.2 (October 2014)

Special issue on “The Literary Subversive: Writings of Resistance in East Asian History.” Guest editor.


Selected Articles

  • “Paratextuality, Materiality, and Corporeality in Medieval Chinese Religions: Talismans (fu) and Diagrams (tu).” Journal of Medieval Worlds 1.4 (2019): 11–40.
  • “Orthodoxie et pluralisme dans la médecine chinoise.” Études chinoises 36.2 (2017) [2018]: 45–81. pdf
  • “The Marvelous Fungus and The Secret of Divine Immortals.” Micrologus 26 (2018): 353–383. pdf
  • “The Allegorical Cosmos: The Shi 式 Board in Medieval Taoist and Buddhist Sources.” In Michael Lackner, ed., The Place of Mantic Practices in the Organization of Knowledge, 196–232. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2018. pdf
  • “Apotropaic Substances as Medicine in Buddhist Healing Methods: Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Five Sciences.” In Pierce Salguero, ed. Buddhism and Healing in East Asia, 441–453. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. pdf
  • “Buddhism, Medicine, and the Affairs of the Heart: Potency Therapy (Vājīkarana) and the Reappraisal of Aphrodisiacs and Love Philters in Medieval Chinese Sources,” East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine (EASTM) 45 (2017): 9–48. pdf
  • “Cosmos, Body, and Meditation in Early Medieval Taoism.” In Anna Andreeva and Dominic Steavu, eds., Transforming the Void: Embryological and Reproductive Symbolism in East Asian Religions, 111–146. Leiden: Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, Brill, 2016. pdf
  • “Backdrops and Parallels to Embryological Discourse and Reproductive Imagery in East Asian Religions.” Co-authored with Anna Andreeva. In Anna Andreeva and Dominic Steavu, eds., Transforming the Void: Embryological and Reproductive Symbolism in East Asian Religions, 1–50. Leiden: Sir Henry Wellcome Asian Series, Brill, 2016. pdf
  • “Delocalizing Illness: Healing and the State in Chinese Magical Medicine.” In Helene Basu and William Sax, eds., The Law of Possession: Ritual, Therapy, and the Secular State, 82–113. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. pdf
  • “Cosmogony and the Origin of Inequality. A Utopian Perspective from the Wunengzi.” Special issue on “The Literary Subversive: Writings of Resistance in East Asian History,” Medieval History Journal 17.2 (2014): 295–335.  pdf
  • “A Brief Overview of the Role of Intellectuals in Resistance.” Special issue on “The Literary Subversive” Writings of Resistance in East Asian History,” Medieval History Journal 17.2 (2014): 195–206. pdf
  • “The Many Lives of Lord Wang of the Western Citadel: A Note on the Transmission of the Sanhuang wen (Writ of the Three Sovereigns),” Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies 13 (March 2009): 109–161. pdf

Review Articles

  • “Taking Form in Response to Stimulus: Recent Publications in Taoist Studies, A Field in Motion.” Asiatisches Studien/Études asiatiques 63.4 (2013): 1081–1101.
  • “Recent Publications in Daoist Studies,” Cahiers-d’Extrême Asie 17 (2008) [2010]: 341–355.

Courses Taught

  • Introduction to Daoism
  • Introduction to Buddhism
  • Introduction to Chinese Buddhism
  • Introduction to East Asian Culture (Premodern)
  • Classical Chinese I
  • Classical Chinese II
  • Science and Medicine in Buddhism and Daoism
  • Western Misrepresentations of Asia
  • Sex, Drugs, and Meditation in Daoism and Buddhism
  • Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in China
  • Religious Literature in China: Buddhist Texts (Seminar)
  • Religious Literature in China: Daoist Texts (Seminar)