Virtual Book Launch – Dancing the Dharma

Virtual Book Launch – Dancing the Dharma: Religious and Political Allegory in Japanese Noh Theater


The Centre for Japanese Research (CJR) at the University of British Columbia presents a series of online book launches to celebrate recent publications about premodern Japan. For our May event, author Susan Blakeley Klein will be discussing Dancing the Dharma: Religious and Political Allegory in Japanese Noh Theater in conversation with Elizabeth Oyler and Vyjayanthi Selinger.

Please note this will be the final event of the series.

• Susan Blakeley Klein (University of California, Irvine)
• (Interlocutor) Elizabeth Oyler (University of Pittsburgh)
• (Interlocutor) Vyjayanthi Selinger (Bowdoin College, Maine)

Thursday, May 6, 2021 5-6:15PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Thursday, May 6, 2021 8-9:15PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Friday, May 7, 2021 9-10:15AM in Japan Time
If you do not receive an email with access details by the day before the event, please email
For disability accommodations, questions, or concerns, please either email
We can also be reached via Twitter @ubcCJR

About the Presenters

Susan Blakeley Klein is Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture, Director of Religious Studies, at the University of California, Irvine. Her research interests and publications include Japanese theater and dance; medieval commentaries; Japanese and Asian religions; New Historicism and feminist critical theory. Her books include an introduction to the Japanese postmodern dance form Butoh (Ankoku Butō: The Premodern and Postmodern Influences on the Dance of Utter Darkness); Allegories of Desire: The Esoteric Literary Commentaries of Medieval Japan on the development of a group of secret medieval literary commentaries influenced by esoteric Shingon Buddhism; and Dancing the Dharma: Religious and Political Allegory in Japanese Noh Theater. Her next project is on changing constructions of gender and subjectivity in Japanese literature and theater, using the historical development of premodern Japanese ghosts as a locus for analysis.

Elizabeth Oyler is Associate Professor of Japanese in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh.  She is author of Swords, Oaths and Prophetic Visions: Authoring Warrior Rule in Medieval Japan and articles on medieval narrative and drama.  She is co-editor, with Michael G. Watson, of Like Clouds or Mists: Studies and Translations of Noh Plays of the Genpei War, and, with Katherine Saltzman-Li, of the forthcoming Cultural Imprints: War and Memory in the Samurai Age.

Vyjayanthi Selinger is Stanley F. Druckenmiller Associate Professor of Asian Studies at Bowdoin College. Her research focuses on the ways in which literature reimagines historical turning points.  Her first book published in 2013, Authorizing the Shogunate, focuses on how The Tale of the Heike uses ritual symbolism to contain the historical tumult of the Genpei War (1180-1185). Her second monograph, The Law in Letters, currently in progress, examines how medieval Japanese theatre exploits the dramatic tension of legal disputes of its time. She is the author of several articles in Japanese on the Tale of the Heike.  In English, her recent articles span a range of subjects, from the symbolic absence of blood in Japanese literary texts, on The Tale of the Heike as a worldly text, and on the travel of the Indian epic Ramayana to Japanese shores in the twelfth century.

About the Book

Dancing the Dharma: Religious and Political Allegory in Japanese Noh Theater

Susan Blakeley Klein

Published by Harvard University Asia Center

Dancing the Dharma examines the theory and practice of allegory by exploring a select group of medieval Japanese noh plays and treatises. Susan Blakeley Klein demonstrates how medieval esoteric commentaries on the tenth-century poem-tale Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise) and the first imperial waka poetry anthology Kokin wakashū influenced the plots, characters, imagery, and rhetorical structure of seven plays (MaigurumaKuzu no hakamaUnrin’inOshioKakitsubataOminameshi, and Haku Rakuten) and two treatises (Zeami’s Rikugi and Zenchiku’s Meishukushū). In so doing, she shows that it was precisely the allegorical mode—vital to medieval Japanese culture as a whole—that enabled the complex layering of character and poetic landscape we typically associate with noh. Klein argues that understanding noh’s allegorical structure and paying attention to the localized historical context for individual plays are key to recovering their original function as political and religious allegories. Now viewed in the context of contemporaneous beliefs and practices of the medieval period, noh plays take on a greater range and depth of meaning and offer new insights to readers today into medieval Japan.

Available for purchase from Harvard University Asia Center.