John Holt

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

Teaching this semester

ASNS 2551/REL 2223. Mahayana Buddhism

Studies the emergence of Mahayana Buddhist worldviews as reflected in primary sources of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese origins. Buddhist texts include the Buddhacarita (Life of Buddha), the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, the Prajnaparamitra-hrdaya Sutra (Heart Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom), the Saddharmapundarika Sutra (the Lotus Sutra), the Sukhavati Vyuha (Discourse on the Pure Land), and the Vajraccedika Sutra (the Diamond-Cutter), among others.

REL 3390. Theories about Religion

Seminar focusing on how religion has been explained and interpreted from a variety of intellectual and academic perspectives, from the sixteenth century to the present. In addition to a historical overview of religionís interpretation and explanation, also includes consideration of postmodern critiques and the problem of religion and violence in the contemporary world.

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.