• Ph.D., Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University (2000)
  • A.M., Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University (1998)
  • M.A. Candidate, Asian Languages, University of Washington (1994-1995)
  • B.A., Asian Studies, University of Toronto (1994)

Courses Taught

Religious Studies/Interdisciplinary Studies Courses

  • Religion and Reality
  • Understanding Religious Traditions in a Global Context
  • Buddhisms
  • East Asian Religious Traditions
  • South Asian Religious Traditions
  • Chinese Religious Traditions
  • Comparative Religious Ethics
  • Biographies of the Buddha (and His Substitute Bodies)
  • Interpreting Buddhist Literature
  • Objects of Devotion
  • Secularism and Fundamentalism
  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Religion
  • Translating the Liberal Arts
  • Finding Yourself on the Page: A Capstone Course for Writers of All Disciplines
  • Senior Thesis in Religious Studies
  • How to Do Things With Words

Language Courses

  • Introduction to Sanskrit
  • Intermediate Sanskrit
  • Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
  • Classical Tibetan

Study-Abroad Courses

  • Chinese Cities in Transition (taught partly in China)
  • Developing Intercultural Competencies (preparing for study abroad)
  • Reflection and Integration (reflecting on study abroad)

Research Interests

Mahāyāna Buddhist literature; ritual uses of texts; performative language theory; embodiment; translation practices; knowledge production.


Selected Publications:

The Language of the Sūtras: Essays in Honor of Luis O. Gómez, Mangalam Research Center, forthcoming (executive editor).

“Texts and Rituals,” in The Oxford Handbook of Buddhist Practice, edited by Paula Arai and Kevin Trainor. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

“Translating the Buddha’s Body,” in Translating Buddhism: Collected Essays on Translation Theory and Practice, edited by Alice Collett. New York: SUNY Press, forthcoming.

“The Scandal of the Speaking Buddha: Performative Utterance and the Erotics of the Dharma,” in Buddhist Literature as Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy as Literature, edited by Rafal K. Stepien. New York: SUNY Press, 2020.

“Sūtra Time,” in The Language of the Sūtras: Essays in Honor of Luis O. Gómez, edited by Natalie Gummer. Mangalam Research Center, forthcoming.

“Suvarṇabhāsottamasūtra,” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Volume One: Literature and Languages, edited by Jonathan Silk, Oskar von Hinüber, and Vincent Eltschinger, 249-260. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

“Sacrificial Sūtras: Mahāyāna Literature and the South Asian Ritual Cosmos,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82, no.4 (2014): 1091-1126.

“Listening to the Dharmabhāṇaka: The Buddhist Preacher in and of the Sūtra of Utmost Golden Radiance,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 80, no.1 (2012): 137-160.

Defining Buddhism(s): A Reader, Equinox Publishing, 2007 (co-editor with Karen Derris).

Natalie Gummer

Professor of Religious Studies & Critical Identity Studies
Edwin F. Wilde, Jr. Distinguished Service Chair

 Email:  Phone: 608-363-2346  Office: Room 215, Morse-Ingersoll Hall

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.

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