A work and its shapers: the "Most High Scripture of the Rectifying Methods of the Three Heavens" in early medieval China
Religions, following Max Müller, have often been seen by scholars in religious studies as uniform collections of beliefs and practices encoded in stable “sacred books” that direct the conduct of religious actors. These texts were the chief focus of academic students of religion through much of the 20th century, and this approach remains strong in the 21st. However, a growing chorus of dissidents has begun to focus on the lived experience of practitioners and the material objects that structure that experience, and some textual scholars have begun extending this materialist framework to the study of texts. This dissertation is a contribution in that vein from the field of Daoist studies. Now split between two separate texts, the Most High Scripture of the Rectifying Methods of the Three Heavens began as a 4th-century collection of apocalyptic predictions and apotropaic devices designed to deliver a select group of Chinese literati to the heavens of Highest Clarity. Later editors during the early medieval period (ca. 220-589 CE) took one of two paths: for their own reasons, they altered the Rectifying Methods to emphasize either the world’s end or its continuation. Detailed study of these alterations and their contexts shows how individuals and groups used and modified the Rectifying Methods in in ways that challenge the conventional relationship between religious text and religious actor.