Religions of Asia

The Field

The Religions of Asia track emphasizes research on the languages, communities, texts, performances, and histories of the various religious traditions of East, South and Southeast Asia. Graduate students in the track have specialized in topics such as the popular representations of Hindu deities, the practices of Buddhist nuns in Korea, and the emergence of Tantric Buddhism among the early Khmers. The Asia track also connects with Religion in the Americas in considering the ways in which Asian traditions have been imported to the West, and with Religion and Nature in providing opportunities to examine nature-human relationships in Asian cultures and religions.

Religions of Asia faculty work collaboratively with across the campus, including the Samuel Harn Museum of Art, Asian Languages and Literatures, UF Performing Arts, the Water Institute, and Women’s Studies. Dr. Narayanan directs CHiTra (the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions), a program which emphasizes interdisciplinary work and the study of Global Hindu traditions. In 2007-8, CHiTra faculty coordinated the Women, Water and Equity Speaker Series in conjunction with the Water Institute to bring internationally renowned scholars to the University of Florida. Travis Smith and Anita Anantharam (Women’s Studies) have initiated the UF in India study abroad program based at Navdanya Institute (Dehradun, Uttaranchal). Set on an organic farm in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains, this program explores issues of globalization and gender, pilgrimage and sacred space, sustainability and social justice.


Vasudha Narayanan (Hinduism in India and the Diaspora) is a former President of the American Academy of Religion. Dr. Narayanan’s books include The Life of Hinduism (2007) co-edited with John Stratton Hawley, The Vernacular Veda: Revelation, Recitation, and Ritual (1994); The Way and the Goal: Expressions of Devotion in the Early Srivaisnava Tradition (1987); The Tamil Veda: Pillan’s Interpretation of the Tiruvaymoli (1989; co-authored with John Carman). She is currently working on an extended study of Hindu temples and Vaishnava traditions in Cambodia.

Mario Poceski (Buddhist studies and Chinese religions) focuses on Chinese Buddhist literature and history. His latest book is Ordinary Mind as the Way: The Hongzhou School and the Growth of Chan Buddhism (Oxford UP 2007). Poceski’s publications also include two other books and a number of articles and chapters on various aspects of Buddhist studies. Presently he is writing a book that surveys the history of Chinese religions (to be published by Routledge).

Whitney Sanford (Hinduism) focuses on Braj devotional traditions and Indian environmentalism. Her first book Singing Krishna: Sound Becomes Sight in Paramanand’s Poetry (SUNY 2008) explores the role of devotional poetry in ritual practice. Her recently completed manuscript, Transforming Agriculture: Hindu Narrative and Ecological Imagination, explores how Hindu agricultural narratives provide the foundation to expand the ecological imagination in terms and rethink agricultural practice. Current research interests include the relationship between agricultural biotechnology and forms of neo-colonialism, particularly in Latin America and India. Her new project “Gandhi’s Environmental Legacy: Food Democracy and Social Movements” investigates Gandhi’s influence on sustainability and food and water sovereignty movements.

Jonathan Edelmann (Hinduism, Science and Religion, Sanskrit) is an editor for the International Journal of Hindu Studies and author of Hindu Theology and Biology (2012) with Oxford University Press, which won awards with the John Templeton Foundation Award and the Dharma Academy of North America (DANAM), and was nominated for a Book Award in Comparative Theology. Edelmann was a fellow with the American Academy of Religion for two years, held a Post-doctoral fellowship with Harris Manchester College, Oxford University. His research is on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, an important source of culture, fine arts, philosophy, theology, and narrative in South Asia. He conducts research on the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava interpretation of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and related texts such as the Bhagavad Gītā and Upaniṣads. Edelmann is also interested in the manner in which Hindu thought might respond constructively to contemporary issues in the philosophy and science. He has published in a wide variety of leading academic journals in Religious Studies, Consciousness Studies, and Indology, for example the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Zygon: Journal of Science and Religion, and the Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Graduate Students

Required courses: In addition to the two courses that are required for all Ph.D. students in the department—Method and Theory I & II—all students must take two additional courses. These can be selected from the following three courses, although students are encouraged to consider taking all three of them. REL 6319 Interpreting Asian Religions; REL 5937 Hindu Traditions; REL 6346 Buddhist Traditions.

Language requirement: All students are required to demonstrate adequate mastery of at least one Asian language—which can be either a classical or a modern language—selected on the basis of its relevance to the student’s area of study. Depending on the student’s research topic, competence in additional classical or modern languages may also be required, as determined in consultation with the faculty supervisory committee. Generally, students are encouraged to undertake additional language study beyond the basic requirement, which can involve the study of a second Asian language or of a relevant European language.

Qualifying examinations: 1) Primary religious tradition. (Possible choices include, but are not limited to: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, and Daoism); 2) Secondary religious tradition. Students have the option of limiting the scope of the examination in terms of a specific geographical area, such as South or East Asia; 3) Approaches to the academic study of Asian religions. This exam will usually be based on the Interpreting Asian Religions course, but it can alternatively consist of (1) an examination offered by one of the other tracks in the department, or (2) an examination in a relevant subfield in another discipline (such as history, women’s studies, or anthropology); 4) Student’s area of specialization; 5) Oral examination, to be taken upon successful completion of all written qualifying exams.