Faculty - Thomas Borchert
Professor Borchert specializes in the religions of East and Southeast Asia. His area of research includes Theravada Buddhist traditions of mainland Southeast Asia and the minorities of China. Other research interests include religion and politics, monastic education, networks and disciplinary practices. He received a Ph.D. (2006) in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago and a B.A. (1992) from Swarthmore College. His book, Educating Monks: Minority Buddhism on China’s Southwest Border, will be published by the University of Hawai’i Press in Spring 2017. In the spring of 2010, he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Center at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore where he researched Buddhist networks. In the spring of 2014 he was a visiting research fellow in the International PhD Programme in Buddhist Studies at Mahidol University (Thailand), where he researched the relationship of monastic and national identity under the auspices of a Fulbright Fellowship. He came to UVM in 2006.
"I am particularly interested in the ways that definitions have different kinds of lives in the contemporary world. States set forth legal definitions and seek to promulgate these throughout their populace; at the same time this same populace has its own set of (often unstated) definitions. The ways these different definitions play out on the ground can have important consequences for the way people conduct their religious lives. The term religion is a case in point. People in China and Japan often remark that they “have no religion,” but then they regularly perform actions which seem to our eyes as religious. At the same time, the Chinese and Japanese states enact their own definitions of what does and does not constitute legitimate religion. When state definitions and those of the people clash, it can lead to serious problems for the continued practice of a religion or set of religious practices. Understanding these dynamics is important, and complicated by the fact that the academy has its own definitions that do not always cohere directly with those of the people we study. I want students to understand how the lives of definitions affect what we study."
His publications include:
- “Monastic Labor: Thinking about the Work of Monks in Contemporary Theravada Communities,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 79 (2011): 162-192.
- “The Abbot’s New House: Thinking about how Religion Works among Buddhists and Minorities in Contemporary China,” Journal of Church and State 52: 1 (2010).
- “Worry for the Dai Nation: Sipsongpanna, Chinese Modernity and the Problems of Buddhist Modernism,” Journal of Asian Studies 67: 1 (February 2008).
- “Buddhism, Politics and Nationalism in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries,” Religion Compass 1: 5 (2007).