Professor of Religious Studies & Critical Identity Studies
Office: Room 215, Morse-Ingersoll Hall
Edwin F. Wilde, Jr. Distinguished Service Chair
In my courses, I work with students to generate a critical dialogue between certain naturalized, normalized aspects of contemporary life and the lifeways and cosmologies of other times and places. We pay particular attention to the production of knowledge—now and in the past—as a practice both embodied and productive of (racialized and gendered) bodies. As a mentor, I am especially motivated to help students expand and enhance their own capacities and resources as makers of knowledge—not only through academic practices, but also through the exploration of decolonial and related options for creating and sharing knowledge with transformative potential.
My research examines textual practices in premodern Mahāyāna Buddhist literary cultures, especially ritual uses of texts, oral performance, and translation. I also explore how Mahāyāna literature might offer us critical purchase on a range of contemporary ethical and and philosophical debates, such as those that inform my teaching. I completed my Ph.D. in the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University.
My current book project, entitled Performing the Buddha’s Body: Mahāyāna Sūtras as Ritual Speech Acts, offers a fresh interpretation of Sanskrit Mahāyāna sūtras like the Lotus of the Fine Dharma (Saddharmapuṇḍarīka) and the Utmost Golden Radiance (Suvarṇa[pra]bhāsottama) as textual embodiments of the performative speech of the Buddha. Whenever people preach, hear, memorize, study, or otherwise engage with the sūtras, the Buddha’s body not only speaks, but acts through and within the bodies of others, who become future buddhas themselves thereby. By historicizing the question of what it means to “read” these texts, the book opens up broader hermeneutical dilemmas. In what ways do the methods of reading employed by scholars of religion obscure and distort the performative, transformative purposes for which these texts were composed and disseminated? How do theories of language as referential and of religious discourse as doctrinal and propositional work to divorce texts labeled “religious” from material reality and sanctioned sources of power? And how might rethinking the relationship between bodies and texts through the lens of these sūtras generate new critical perspectives on performative language in the study of religion? Performing the Buddha’s Body illuminates not only the performativity of Mahāyāna sūtras, but also their potential to speak and act in the present.
Please visit my Academia page to access some of my other publications.