Kelsey Seymour is a PhD Candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to her doctoral studies, she graduated from UC Berkeley with a double major in Music and Chinese and graduated from Cambridge University with an MPhil in Linguistics. She also earned a Masters of Flute Performance from the Royal College of Music in London. She has been a visiting student at the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, and a Doctoral Candidate Fellow at the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan.
Ms. Seymour’s dissertation research deals with how sonic activity and aural experience affected people’s religious lives in Six Dynasties and Tang China. She is concerned with how people produced sound – especially scriptural chanting – as a technique to assert control over the people and spaces that surrounded them. Not only was chanting used by Buddhists to educate others, delineate space, and as a means of reaction against government imposition, but it was also used to manipulate less-tangible aspects of religious life: as a tactic to incite miracles and manipulate supernatural agents. She is also concerned with how individuals responded to sounds they heard. Medieval Chinese people believed that hearing and producing particular kinds of sounds could incite psychosomatic transformations, such as instant conversion to Buddhism or non-decay of speech organs after death, but also that chanters and listeners could develop illnesses from sound that required meditative cures to release them from the attachment.