Professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies, Dean of the School of Critical Social Inquiry
Her research, based on extensive fieldwork in Thailand, examines the work of Buddhist monks engaged in rural development, environmental conservation and other forms of social activism. The broader questions she addresses in her research and teaching include understanding the changing social, political, and historical contexts of religion, environmentalism and human rights, and the creative use of ritual for social change.
She also teaches about socially engaged Buddhism, religious movements, and Southeast Asian studies. She is actively involved in the struggle for human rights in Burma.
This two-semester course, with an integrated Jan-term field component in Thailand, investigates the intersections of design (building and land use), anthropology/social justice, and ecology, with a focus on a case study in Northern Thailand. The fall semester will build background and theoretical knowledge in these areas generally and our case study in Thailand specifically. Students will critically examine ways in which design is influenced by cultural, historical, and ecological factors. They will learn about social justice issues in Southeast Asia that are impacted by structural forms of agriculture, climate change, economics, and social structure. How can architectural and land use design empower rural peoples? What does resilience look like for rural farmers who face significant economic, social, and ecological change? Over January, selected students will accompany the faculty to our field site in Northern Thailand for primary research. Second semester will be project based with students working in interdisciplinary teams of anthropology/ecology/architecture students. Instructor permission required, with prerequisites for architecture students and a background in either Asian studies, ethnographic methods, and/or ecology for other students.
This course explores how cultures and religions influence theoretical and social concepts of nature and the environment. Efforts to preserve, protect and/or define natural spaces around the world shed insight into the development of the concept of environmentalism. Often equated in the global north with nature conservation and sustainable development, environmentalism takes different forms in various social and cultural settings. How people respond to environmental problems (and even how such problems are defined) can vary across class, ethnicity, geographic setting, and religious understandings. Through examining religious and cultural concepts of natural and social environments cross-culturally, diverse modes of thinking and acting will be examined through specific cases. Each student will design, research, and write (with a draft) an analytical paper on a related topic, in addition to several shorter essays.
Scholars, practitioners and activists worldwide debate the relationship between Buddhism and environment, some arguing that ecological sensitivities are inherent in the teachings of the religion, while others see these as modern aberrations. We will examine Buddhist perspectives on nature and Buddhist responses to environmental issues. Looking at Buddhist activities in specific settings, we will consider how the religion both informed and was influenced by culture, politics, economics and concerns of local people facing environmental issues. Cases studies will be drawn from Southeast, East Asia, the Himalayas, and the United States. Some knowledge of Buddhism or Asian studies preferred.
This course will examine how the beliefs and practices of Buddhism adapted to and influenced Asian societies and their religious cultures. Rather than defining Buddhism strictly as a scriptural religious philosophy, this course moves beyond canonical boundaries and focuses on historical and contemporary practices. We will begin with the history of how Buddhism spread across Asia and adapted to each new society. Topics of examination include, among others, temple economy, spirit healing, clerical marriage, role of women, Buddhist ritual, body immolation, nationalism, practical morality, and the relationship between monastic communities and laity. There will be required film screenings on several Wednesday evenings, 6-8 p.m.
Rivers have become sites of contention surrounding how they can best serve the people living along them and the nations through which they flow. For some, they provide cultural meanings and livelihoods; for others, they represent progress in the ways they can be developed and used. We will critically examine several case studies of rivers to unpack the cultural, environmental, economic, and identity conflicts that arise worldwide as people's concepts of rivers collide. Issues explored will include colonization and trade, indigenous histories and rights, economic development and dams, water rights, environmental debates, and transnationalism. The rivers we will look at will likely include the Connecticut, the Mekong (Southeast Asia), the Ganges (India), the Yangtze (China), and the Amazon (South America), each bringing different stories of meaning, conflict, development, and environmentalism. Students will research a river of their choice throughout the semester. Theories from anthropology, history, human rights and agrarian studies will inform our explorations of these rivers and their controversies.