Core Faculty

Juhn Ahn : Assistant Professor of Buddhist and Korean Studies

Juhn Ahn

Assistant Professor of Buddhist and Korean Studies

  • East Asian Buddhism
  • Buddhism and Illness/Death
  • Korean Literature


Current research interests:

I study death, illness, and Buddhism in East Asia. In my doctoral thesis I examined something called the “malady of meditation.” This is a “malady” or “defect” that continued to trouble Buddhist meditators in East Asia for centuries. I was particularly interested in the transformation of this malady or defect over time. In a number of different publications I tried to explain this transformation by situating the changing views of the malady of meditation in their proper historical contexts. I focused specifically on two Buddhist monks who spoke extensively about the malady of meditation: the Chinese Buddhist monk Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163) and the Japanese Buddhist monk Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769). What drew me to these two towering figures of Chan and Zen is not only the critical role that they played in shaping the discourse about the malady of meditation but also their efforts to use the malady to make sense of problems associated with changing habits of reading among students of Chan and Zen.

Current projects:

My current research focuses on the relationship between Buddhist mortuary practices and elite identity formation in fourteenth century Korea. A small but growing number of families that belonged to the late Koryŏ elite began to abandon Buddhist mortuary practices, which they associated with waste and decadence, in favor of Neo-Confucian mortuary practices and in my recent publications I try to explain why. Using, among other things, officials histories, biographies, funerary inscriptions, commemorative steles, and literary collections I try to draw a connection between the rise of this rhetoric of decadence, the gradual shift in the cultural construction of elite identity during the late Koryŏ, and the influx of new social elements under Mongol rule.

Teaching interests:

At the undergraduate level I teach courses about premodern and modern Korean history and religion. I also teach courses about East Asian Buddhism, Zen, contemporary controversies in Korea, life and death in megacities or great cities in Asia, and love in Korean literature and film. I also teach immersive learning courses, which take place in Seoul Korea.
Micah Auerback : Associate Professor of Japanese Religion

Micah Auerback

Associate Professor of Japanese Religion

  • Japanese Buddhism
  • Korean Buddhism
  • Narratives of the Buddha's Life

Benjamin Brose : Associate Professor of Chinese Buddhism

Benjamin Brose

Associate Professor of Chinese Buddhism

  • Chan/Zen
  • Chinese Religions
  • Literature and Liturgy


Current research interests:

I work on the history of religion in China. My recent research has focused on two transformational historical eras—the late ninth through the early eleventh centuries and the twentieth century—in an attempt to better understand the relationships between social, cultural, and political change and the development of religious doctrines and practices. My first book, Patrons and Patriarchs: Regional Rulers and Chan Monks during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), examined the tumultuous century that spanned the collapse of the Tang dynasty (618–907) and the consolidation of the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). I attempted to resolve two closely related issues in the field of Chinese Buddhist studies. The first is how Chan (a.k.a. Zen) clerics, who represented a relatively minor undercurrent in mainstream Buddhism during the Tang dynasty, rose to become some of the most culturally and politically significant clerics of the Northern Song. The second is the extent to which the Chan institutions and traditions of the early Northern Song—which were later transmitted to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam—derived from developments in southeastern China during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.

I have explored other facets of Chinese Buddhism during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms in a series of articles. “Crossing Ten-Thousand Li of Waves” (Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 2008) examines the loss and recovery of an important corpus of Tiantai Buddhist texts against the backdrop of pilgrimage and the circulation of material culture in China, Korea, and Japan. “Credulous Kings and Immoral Monks”(Asia Major, 2014) reevaluates the state of the Buddhist clergy in China after the fall of the Tang dynasty in light of polemical accounts written by later generations of Chinese scholar-officials. Finally, “Disorienting Medicine”(Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies, 2015) is a study and annotated translation of a leading tenth-century cleric’s critique of the Chan monks of his generation.

Current projects:

My current research looks at the transmission and adaptation of Chinese Buddhist cultures in other parts of Asia, the evolution and malleability of hagiographical narratives, and the history of religious traditions in modern China. A second book project, provisionally titled Embodying Xuanzang: A Medieval Monk in the Modern Imagination, examines recent representations of the seventh-century Buddhist cleric, pilgrim, and scholar Xuanzang 玄奘 (600/602–664). My intention is to document and interpret instances where Xuanzang has been re-embodied—by means of spirit mediums, relics, rituals, and icons—during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries primarily in mainland China, but also in Taiwan, Japan, and India.

Teaching interests:

At Michigan, I teach a range of courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. My regular course offerings include “Zen Buddhism: History, Culture, and Critique,” “Gods, Ghosts, and Gangsters: Popular Religion in China,” “Buddhism and Death,” and “Zen Masters, Dharma Bums, and Drag Queens: Buddhism in America.” I also teach courses on the reinvention of religion in modern Asia, Qing dynasty and Republican era Buddhism in China, reading Buddhist texts (in Chinese), and systems of self-cultivation in China.
Kevin Carr : Associate Professor of Art History

Kevin Carr

Associate Professor of Art History

  • East Asian Buddhist Art
  • Japanese Art History


Kevin Carr teaches all aspects of the history of Japanese art and archaeology, but his research focuses on the visual cultural of popular religious cults of medieval Japan (especially thirteenth-fifteenth centuries). His work engages issues of visual narrative, hagiography, and the construction of history and national consciousness through art. He has also worked on cultural exchanges between Japan and Europe in the seventeenth century and the nineteenth century, the epistemological foundations of medieval art, and the interpretation of material culture in the absence of textual evidence. His current project focuses on communal identities as manifest in images of temple origin stories (engi-e) in fourteenth-century Japan.
Madhav Deshpande : Professor of South Asian Literature and Linguistics

Madhav Deshpande

Professor of South Asian Literature and Linguistics

  • Indian Philosophy
  • Sanskrit
  • Hindu Traditions


Research Interests:

Madhav M. Deshpande is professor of Sanskrit and Hindu Studies at the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, with a joint appointment in the Department of Linguistics. Originally trained in traditional and modern Sanskrit scholarship in Pune, India, Deshpande earned his B.A. (1966) and M.A. (1968) in Sanskrit from the University of Pune, and his doctorate in Oriental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania (1972). He has been on the faculty of the University of Michigan since 1972. His research relates to the fields of the Sanskrit grammatical tradition, historical linguistics and sociolinguistics of Indo-Aryan languages, and the religious and philosophical traditions of India, including Hinduism and Buddhism. He has published fifteen books and over 150 research papers relating to these areas.


-Samskrtasubodhini: A Sanskrit Primer
-Sociolinguistic Attitudes in India: A Historical Reconstruction
-The Meaning of Nouns: Semantic Theory in Classical and Medieval India

Field(s) of Study:

Historical linguistics
Sanskrit grammatical tradition
Sanskrit phonetics
Indo-Aryan linguistics
Sociolinguistics of Sanskrit and Prakrit languages
Donald S. Lopez, Jr. : Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies; Asian Languages and Cultures Department Chair

Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies; Asian Languages and Cultures Department Chair

  • Tibetan Buddhism
  • Buddhist Philosophy
  • The European Encounter with Buddhism


Current research interests:

My publications fall into four main areas. The first is Indian Buddhist scholastic philosophy, especially of the Mahayana schools as preserved in Tibetan translation and as interpreted by Tibetan exegetes. Here, my books include A Study of Svātantrika, The Heart Sūtra Explained: Indian and Tibetan Commentaries, and Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sūtra. A second area is the history of the European encounter with Buddhism and the networks of influence that developed between Asia and the West to produce what some have called “Modern Buddhism.” Here my books include Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the WestBuddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, and the edited volume Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism. More recently, my work in this area has examined the period prior to the twentieth century. Here, my books include From Stone to Flesh: A Brief History of the Buddha, the translation from the French (with Katia Buffetrille) of Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism by Eugène Burnouf (1801-1852), The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography, and In Search of the Christian Buddha (with Peggy McCracken). A third focus is the Tibetan author Gendun Chopel (1903-1951), considered by many to be the most important Tibetan intellectual of the twentieth century, renowned as a poet, essayist, historian, philosopher, and painter. Here, my books includeThe Madman’s Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendun Chopel, In the Forest of Faded Wisdom:104 Poems by Gendun Chopel, Gendun Chopel: Tibet’s First Modern Artist, and the translation (with Thupten Jinpa) Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler. A fourth focus has been an effort to bring the fruits of scholarship on Buddhism to a larger audience, especially to scholars and students in other disciplines, through translations, anthologies, and reference works. Here, my books include Buddhism in Practice and Religions of Tibet in Practice (both in the “Princeton Readings in Religions” series), Buddhist Scriptures(Penguin Classics), Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism (in the University of Chicago Press series, “Buddhism and Modernity”), Buddhism(from the Norton Anthology of World Religions), and The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (with Robert Buswell).

Current projects:

I am presently working on four projects. The first is a translation and study (in collaboration with Thupten Jinpa) of the refutation of Buddhism (specifically the doctrines of rebirth and emptiness)—composed in Tibetan—by the Jesuit missionary to Tibet, Ippolito Desideri (1684-1733). The second is an anthology of European descriptions of Buddhism, beginning with Clement of Alexandria in the second century CE and ending with Eugène Burnouf in 1844. The third is a translation of a compendium of Indian Buddhist doctrine by the renowned Tibetan scholar Jangkya Rolpé Dorjé (1717-1786). The fourth is a translation and study (also in collaboration with Thupten Jinpa) of the Treatise on Passion by Gendun Chopel.

Teaching interests:

In my graduate courses, I read a wide variety of Tibetan Buddhist works with students with advanced language skills. I also teach seminars open to all graduate students in Buddhist Studies (as well as other disciplines). Recent seminars have included “The History of Buddhist Studies,” “Buddhist Tantra,” and “The Life of the Buddha.” A future seminar will examine the notion of Buddhahood across the various Buddhist traditions.
Erick White : Assistant Professor of Thai Buddhist Studies

Erick White

Assistant Professor of Thai Buddhist Studies

  • Thai Buddhism
  • Theravada Buddhism
  • Devotion, Piety, and Charisma


Current research interests:

I am a cultural anthropologist of Thailand and Theravada Buddhism. My ethnographic and historical research investigates struggles over religious status, prestige and legitimacy in Thai Buddhism. I examine the social and cultural dynamics of debates about religious authority, identity and belonging in modern Theravada Buddhist Thailand, and I explore how these dynamics have been shaped in the post-colonial era by processes of urbanization, democratization, globalization and capitalist development. More specifically, in my fieldwork I have studied the subculture of Bangkok professional spirit mediums, and the social production of charismatic authority within their marginalized, stigmatized and weakly institutionalized community of religious actors. I am fascinated by the dialectics of inclusion and exclusion in the creation of mainstream Buddhism in the public spheres of modern Southeast Asian nation states. I seek to apply models and concepts from practice theory, field theory, assemblage theory and cultural studies in order to reinterpret vernacular religion and religious diversity in both Thailand and mainland Southeast Asia.

Current projects:

In my book manuscript, Spirit Possession as Buddhist Vocation: Piety, Devotion and Charisma in Modern Thai Buddhism, I analyze how professional spirit mediums rethink Thai Buddhist ideas about history, the spiritual pantheon, religious potency, piety and auspiciousness as they seek to carve out a new mainstream Buddhist vocation of oracular expertise. The book examines how the cultural meaning and ritual performance of trance possession has been transformed in their subculture, resulting in novel modern understandings of Buddhist charisma and legitimacy. Through a close examination of public and private rituals, everyday discourse and practice, and religious teaching and instruction within the subculture, I demonstrate that Thai professional spirit mediums advance a surprisingly conventional vision of Theravada Buddhist piety and practice. I explore how the religious idioms, repertoires and values endorsed by professional mediums draw upon and innovatively reinterpret mainstream Thai Buddhist ideas about devotion, esotericism, charisma, sacral power and ritual auspiciousness. Ultimately, the book highlights the similarities between Bangkok spirit mediums and other lay and monastic Buddhist virtuosos in the urban public sphere of modern Thailand, even as it documents how a stigmatized religious community is locked in a hegemonic struggle with multiple mainstream voices over competing claims to religious legitimacy.

My current research project investigates the cultural, social and material processes that support large-scale Thai Buddhist devotional movements. These 'cults' of piety, organized around a dizzying diversity of sacred figures, rely on a similar infrastructural assemblage: immobile shrines, mobile icons, hagiographic mythologies, modular ritual scripts, miracle narratives, diffuse networks of patronage, and mass media advocacy. Through an historical and ethnographic study of mass popular piety in the public sphere, I explore different strategies in articulating this shared Buddhist 'cultic' infrastructure. This project allows me to investigate contrasting patterns in how initially unconventional forms of Buddhist belief, practice and value are rendered normatively mainstream. In the process, I analyze how different social groups achieve this result through the creative use of capitalist production and exchange, mass media technologies, public ritual spectacle, and discourses of cultural heritage.

Teaching interests:

My teaching is broadly grounded in these various research interests. It is centered on Thailand, Thai Buddhism, religion in mainland Southeast Asia, and Theravada Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia. In these contexts, my courses explore questions of religious authority and diversity; the interplay of literature, materiality and performance in religious culture; consumer society, popular culture and religious change; and urbanization, modernization and globalization. At Michigan I teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate level about Buddhism in Southeast Asia, Thai society and culture, Theravada Buddhism, and Thai Buddhism and film.