William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies
(on leave for the spring 2017 semester)
Kanbar Hall - 116
Explains the nexus between religion and society in modern South Asia via the prism of South Asian literature in English. Confined to prose fiction, considering its tendency to attempt approximations of reality. Interrogates how ideas of religion and ideas about religion manifest themselves in literature and affect understanding of south Asian religions among its readership. Does not direct students to seek authentic insights into orthodox or doctrinal religion in the literary texts but to explore the tensions between textual religion and everyday lived reality in South Asia.
A reading and discussion of translated classical Hindu literature, including the Rg Veda, Upanishads, Yoga Sutra, the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata (including the Bhagavad Gita), Devi Mahatmya and the Cilapatikaram, etc. Focuses on development of various types of religious worldviews and religious experiences as reflected in classical Sanskrit and vernacular literature of India.
John Clifford Holt joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1978. He has an A.B. (cum laude) in history from Gustavus Adolphus, an A.M. in history and phenomenology of religions from the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley) with distinction, and a Ph.D. in history of religions from the University of Chicago. He teaches courses about Asian religious traditions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as courses on theoretical approaches to the study of religion. In 1982, he organized and founded the Inter-collegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program for a consortium of private liberal arts colleges, and in 1986 he became the first chair of Bowdoin's Asian Studies Program. His book publications include Discipline: the Canonical Buddhism of the Vinayapitaka (Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981), A Guide to the Buddhist Religion (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1981), Buddha in the Crown (NY: Oxford U. Press, 1991) for which he was awarded an American Academic Book Award for Excellence in 1992, The Anagatavamsa Desana (Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993), The Religious World of Kirti Sri: Buddhism, Art and Politics in Late Medieval Sri Lanka (NY: Oxford U. Press, 1996), and The Buddhist Visnu (NY: Columbia U. Press, 2004). He has also edited a collection of essays entitled Constituting Communities: Buddhism and the Religious Cultures of South and Southeast Asia (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003). He is currently working on two other books: The Spirit(s) of the Place: Buddhism and Lao Religious Culture; and Sri Lanka: History, Politics and Culture. He has received numerous research awards, including four fellowships from the National Endowment of the Humanities, two senior fellowships from the Fulbright Program, as well as other national research awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, and the Asian Cultural Council. He has been an editor of Religious Studies Review and was elected as a fellow to the American Society for the Study of Religion in 1995. He has been Visiting Professor of History and Comparative Religion at the University of Peradeniya three times (1984, 1989 and 1999) a Visiting Reader at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (1994), and the Visiting Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Calgary twice (2000 & 2006). In 2002, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters (Litt.D) from the University of Peradeniya for his contributions to Sri Lankan and Buddhist Studies and in 2007 he was cited as Alumnus of the Year by the University of Chicago Divinity School.