Professor Trainor specializes in South Asian religious traditions. His area of research includes Theravada Buddhist traditions, especially Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Other research interests include gender analysis and ritual studies. He completed an M.Div. degree in Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Ph.D. in Religion at Columbia University; his B.A. in Religion is from Colgate University. During the 1997-98 academic year he was a Fulbright Senior Scholar attached to the Department of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka, and was a Visiting Scholar at Cornell University in 2004-05. He came to UVM in 1989 and chaired the Religion Department from 2005-2016.

"My approach to the study of religion is pretty eclectic, drawing on historical, anthropological, and philological methods, as well as interdisciplinary approaches such as gender and ritual studies. While I spend a good deal of time reading ancient Buddhist texts produced and preserved within communities of religious renunciants (the Buddhist Sangha), I try to place those texts at the intersection of complex cultural interactions, including ritual practices and gender dynamics. My courses make extensive use of audio-visual resources, since these provide a vital supplement to the sorts of information that are available through the written word. All of my courses are designed to engage students in the challenges posed by our increasing opportunities for intercultural communication and interaction, and to support the development of a critical and self-conscious approach to interpreting information in its diverse forms. I presently teach courses on Buddhist traditions, the interpretation of religion, and the study of ritual. My introductory course in comparative religion is a thematic survey of some central aspects of the Buddhist and Christian traditions."


Relics, Ritual, and Representation in Buddhism: Rematerializing the Sri Lankan Theravada Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Embodying the Dharma: Buddhist Relic Veneration in Asia, edited with David Germano (SUNY Press, 2004).

Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide, editor (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Special Issue: Relics in Comparative Perspective, editor, Numen: International Review for the History of Religions 57, no. 3-4 (2010): 267-536.

“Teaching Buddhism from a Comparative Perspective,” Education About Asia 15 (2010): 19-25.

"The Buddha's 'Cave of the Midday Rest' and Buddhist Relic Practices in Sri Lanka," Material Religion 9 (2013): 516-20

Associations and Affiliations

American Academy of Religion

Association for Asian Studies

American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies

International Association of Buddhist Studies

Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka

Areas of Expertise and/or Research

  • South Asian Buddhist traditions
  • Ritual studies


  • Ph.D., Columbia University
  • M.Div., Union Theological Seminary
  • B.A., cum laude, Colgate University


  • (802) 656-0799
Office Location:

481 Main Street, Room 203

Office Hours:

On Sabbatical

Courses Taught

REL 020 - D2: Comparing Religions Comparison of diverse practices and beliefs from selected religious traditions and cultures. Credits: 3.0

REL 100 - Interpretation of Religion Examination of major theories and methods used in studying and interpreting religious phenomena. Credits: 3.0

REL 109 - Ritualization: Religion, Body, and Culture A cross-cultural examination of ritual strategies for integrating personal and social experience, with attention to various theories and types of religious ritual. Credits: 3.0

REL 234 - D2: Buddhism in Sri Lanka A cross-cultural examination of ritual strategies for integrating personal and social experience, with attention to various theories and types of religious ritual. Credits: 3.0