Alumna Megan Bryson’s new book: Goddess on the Frontier Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China

Dali is a small region on a high plateau in Southeast Asia. Its main deity, Baijie, has assumed several gendered forms throughout the area’s history: Buddhist goddess, the mother of Dali’s founder, a widowed martyr, and a village divinity. What accounts for so many different incarnations of a local deity?

Goddess on the Frontier argues that Dali’s encounters with forces beyond region and nation have influenced the goddess’s transformations. Dali sits at the cultural crossroads of Southeast Asia, India, and Tibet; it has been claimed by different countries but is currently part of Yunnan Province in Southwest China. Megan Bryson incorporates historical-textual studies, art history, and ethnography in her book to argue that Baijie provided a regional identity that enabled Dali to position itself geopolitically and historically. In doing so, Bryson provides a case study of how people craft local identities out of disparate cultural elements and how these local identities transform over time in relation to larger historical changes—including the increasing presence of the Chinese state.

Megan Bryson is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee.

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