John Holt

William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies

Teaching this semester

ASNS 2550/REL 2219. Religion and Fiction in Modern South Asia

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.

ASNS 2554/REL 2222. Theravada Buddhism

An examination of the major trajectories of Buddhist religious thought and practice as understood from a reading of primary and secondary texts drawn from the Theravada traditions of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma.

John Clifford Holt joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1978. 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.


  • Ph.D., History of Religions, University of Chicago; Chicago, Illinois
  • A.M., History and Phenomenology of Religions with distinction, Graduate Theological Union; Berkeley, California
  • A.B. (cum laude), History, Gustavus Adolphus; Saint Peter, Minnesota

Selected Publications

Constituting Communities

Awards and Honors

Professor Holt 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.

Positions and Appointments

  • Visiting Professor of History and Comparative Religion at the University of Peradeniya (1984, 1989 and 1999)
  • Visiting Reader at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (1994),
  • Visiting Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Calgary (2000 & 2006).

In 2002, Professor Holt 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.