About us

The Understanding Buddhist Death Project uses the research that was gathered in the Bristol Buddhist Death Ritual Project which ran from 2007-2011.

The Bristol Buddhist Death Ritual Project was awarded funding by the AHRC. It was an interdisciplinary collaboration between anthropologists and experts in Religious Studies. The project was concerned with Laos and Thailand in Southeast Asia, and China, and was the first comparative academic study of Buddhist death rituals in these two very distinct cultural areas. Some of the chosen locations and rituals, such as the festivals for the dead in Laos and China, have not been documented before.



Book Chapters




Project Staff

The project management combined scholars of different background and expertise:

• Ingmar Heise MA (Leiden)

Ingmar was the project PhD student and worked on Chinese Buddhist death rites and the ghost festival, complementing the study of Southeast Asian rituals.

• Laura Frude MPhil (Bristol)

Laura was the Research Assistant for the 'Understanding Buddhist Death Project'. She has been involved in creating resources for schools and chaplains and has also been responsible for updating the website.

• John Kieschnick PhD (Stanford)

John has published on the impact of Buddhism on Chinese culture. He was the project's Co-Investigator and was responsible for the supervision of the PhD student.

• Patrice Ladwig MA (Münster), PhD (Cambridge)

Patrice was the Research Assistant from August 2007 until June 2009 . He is a trained anthropologist and had already worked on death rituals in Laos.

• Rita Langer MA (Hamburg), Dip (Kelaniya), PhD (Hamburg)

Rita is a trained Indologist with philological expertise and fieldwork experience, and has published in the area of Buddhist death rituals. For the first seven months of the project she was the Research Assistant for the area of Southeast Asian Buddhist rituals.

• Ailsa Laxton MA (Bristol)

Ailsa was the Research Assistant for the last six months of the project.  She has extensive experience in curating exhibitions and publications and was also responsible for setting up the project webpage.

• Paul Williams OPL, DPhil (Oxon)

Paul is an established Buddhist scholar with a broad knowledge of various Buddhist traditions and editing experience. He was the Principal Investigator and project leader, oversaw the study and brought together the different strands of research.

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Research Methods

Field work, as previous experience has shown, is most fruitful when confined to a manageable number of places and events.  Patrice Ladwig researched the Southeast Asian context concentrating on Thailand (Chiang Mai and Bangkok) and Laos (Luang Prabang and Vientiane). These findings were compared with earlier field data collected by Rita Langer in Sri Lanka (four villages northeast of Colombo).   Patrice Ladwig (partly joined by Rita Langer) spent seven months in Laos (timed to coincide with the fortnight of annual festivals for making offerings to the dead) and five months in Thailand.  Ingmar Heise chose to focus on Fujian province in China where he spent nine months in 2007/08.

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We would value your feedback on the resources that have been created as part of the project. Feedback can be left by taking part in a short survey.