Book Review: Spells, Images, and Maṇḍalas by Koichi Shinohara

My review of Spells, Images, and Maṇḍalas by Koichi Shinohara (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) has recently been published in the Buddhist studies journal Pacific World. From the opening of my review:

Koichi Shinohara’s Spells, Images, and Maṇḍalas is perhaps the most important book on esoteric or tantric Buddhism (Ch. mijiao; Jpn. mikkyō 密教) to be published in decades.1 It reconfigures the history of esoteric rituals through a series of careful studies of some twenty texts translated into Chinese between the fifth and eighth centuries. The book’s modest tone and dry prose belie its far-reaching claims. It aims to show us the very creation of esoterism as we know it.

To read more, click on the image above. To read the full issue of Pacific World, which includes a section of articles in memory of John McRae, go to this webpage.


I must express some displeasure at my experience with this journal. First, despite submitting my review in March 2016, it has only now been published in June 2017. This kind of delay is unacceptable. My contribution was only a book review, but if it had been a research article, the kind that would make a difference in a tenure case, the matter would have been much more serious.

Second, I received no proofs of my contribution prior to publication, and therefore I was not allowed to correct typos at the last minute or review edits that the journal made to my writing. This is annoying not only because they removed a few of my rhetorical flourishes, but also because they took out a sentence about previous scholarship while leaving in its footnote. The result is an incoherent relationship between main text and subtext (see footnote 2 in the review), and it makes me look thoughtless.

On the other hand, I am really glad that Pacific World is completely free, available online, and does not restrict redistribution of its publications. This kind of accessibility is what all journals should strive for.

However, my experience overall was highly dissatisfying, and I do not intend to publish anything with Pacific World again.

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