Associate Professor, Religion Studies and Asian Studies
My teaching and research together reflect my deep commitment to enhancing our curiosities about one another and to honing sensitive instruments of learning which help to make the once “strange” familiar. Religion studies is a multidisciplinary field, making our approaches both challenging and exciting. Whether it is teaching the discovery of the Tibetan Book of the Dead in my course Death and Desire, deconstructing popular understandings of such terms as ‘yoga’ and ‘buddha’ in Buddhist traditions, or networking across departments in planning a Japanese folk and jazz fusion concert for religions of Japan, I hope to facilitate learning in which once comfortably closed stances regarding ‘us’ and ‘them’ begin to open. Material artifacts can bring cultures into clearer view. I bring scrolls, amulets, spirit tablets, devotional paintings and music into my discussions so students can directly touch the manifestations of the abstract ideas they study. My course on Pilgrimage: Rites of Way has instilled in me the importance of journeying together as well, and I have taken students to see Himalayan art collections, talk with monks in a Tibetan monastery, and even to Japan to give them a sense of what it means to study religion in its fullest possible context.
Research, Scholarship or Creative/Artistic Interests
What happens to religious practices in the transmission process? Our own globalized networks of communication and ideas bring these kinds of questions to the fore of our conversations about religion. My work explores a very important moment in the development of Buddhism, its transfer from India to Tibet in the 8th and 9th centuries. Looking at both Silk Road manuscripts and modern collections of ancient texts, I investigate how linguistic and cultural differences are bridged (or ignored), how social and political climates shape people's use of religious ritual and what it means for a religious tradition to be understood as 'foreign' or 'native.' Even the smallest details like scribal copyist error and interlinear notes can tell us a great deal about how teachings were passed. The relationship between two masters of Buddhist tantra, Indian Buddhaguhya and Tibetan Peyang, has been rich ground for these explorations.
Most recently, I have begun to investigate a later form of tantric Buddhism in Japan called Shugendo as it was practiced in rural Tohoku. Integrating Shinto and Buddhist practice and cosmology, Shugendo is another fascinating site of religious transmission across borders.