2021 Student Research Project | Zen and the Art of Detection

Supervisor: Ben Van Overmeire, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Project Description

This project investigates the transnational usage of Zen Buddhist ideas and concepts in detective fiction to promote a better understanding of Buddhist modernity. To find out how Zen Buddhist ideas are incorporated into popular literature around the world, we have closely examined detective novels written by Janwillem Van de Wetering, who was renowned for his detective fiction and his study in Zen Buddhism. Though many hold the belief that Van de Wetering involved his experiences of Zen Buddhism in his fictions, the connection remains unclear. After close reading and detailed analyses, we have found out patterns that appear in his fiction series. We argue that these patterns can be understood under “emptiness”, a ubiquitous but important concept in Zen Buddhism. By analyzing the relationship between the concept of emptiness and the patterns emerging in the fictions, we hope to unravel how elements of Zen Buddhism are incorporated into popular literature.

Student Researchers

Yuan Li is a junior student majoring in data science. In this project, he is responsible for reading the whole corpus of van de Wetering’s detective novels, analyzing Zen Buddhist elements, and finding patterns in Buddhist ideas in the detective genre.

Xiao (Anne) Liu is a junior student majoring in Media and Arts – Art History track. Her research interest lies in the interdisciplinary study between history, art history, and religious studies, but she is also very into other fields of the humanities. She hopes to pursue a PhD in Art History or East Asian Studies. In this research, she is responsible for reading detective novels written by Janwillem van de Wetering, analyzing the Zen elements in the novels, and sorting out patterns in the novel series.

Research Poster