17 episodes

“The Circled Square: Buddhist Studies in Higher Education” explores practices of effective teaching and learning in a diversity of higher education contexts.

The Circled Square circledsquare

    • Education
    • 5.0 • 8 Ratings

“The Circled Square: Buddhist Studies in Higher Education” explores practices of effective teaching and learning in a diversity of higher education contexts.

    Susie Andrews: Building Others Up

    Susie Andrews: Building Others Up

    This conversation with Susie Andrews (Mount Allison University) highlights how she uses creative and hands-on approaches to teaching Asian religions. Susie talks about the importance of building a culture of support and shared success in her teaching—and in academia more broadly. An inspired teacher who has her students build models of ancient Chinese burials using cardboard boxes and who regularly brings homemade playdough to her University classes, she will expand your thinking about the possibilities of embodied and creative practice in all stages of learning. This interview was recorded in the summer of 2021 and released in the Fall of 2021.

    • 1 hr 1 min
    16 Janet Gyatso, Posthumanism and Animal Ethics in Buddhist Studies

    16 Janet Gyatso, Posthumanism and Animal Ethics in Buddhist Studies


    In this episode, Dr. Janet Gyatso discusses how she teaches her students about posthumanism and animal ethics in her courses on Buddhist Studies. She is the Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies and Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs at Harvard Divinity School. 


    “Part of what I'm trying to do is set aside all the mythology and ideology that we have and try to see animals for what they are.” Janet Gyatso 

    “Posthumanism is an attempt to ratchet down the centrality of humans, in our thought, in our discourse, in our vision of what's important, and to decenter the human.” Janet Gyatso

    “We don't only use our rational minds, we never only use our rational minds, we always are embodied, it's only the question of what we can foreground and be aware of.” Janet Gyatso

    Links and References

    Autobiography of Jigme Lingpa https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691009483/apparitions-of-the-self

    Donna Haraway

    Rosi Braidotti https://rosibraidotti.com/publications/the-posthuman-2/

    Dipesh Chakrabarty

    Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo22265507.html

    Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520276116/how-forests-think

    Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter https://www.dukeupress.edu/vibrant-matter

    Franz De Waal

    Carl Safina, Beyond Words https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780805098884

    Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men https://bookshop.org/books/of-wolves-and-men/9780684163222

    Robert Macfarlane

    My Octopus Teacher https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s0LTDhqe5A&ab_channel=Netflix

    Peter Singer, Animal Liberation https://www.amazon.ca/Animal-Liberation-Definitive-Classic-Movement/dp/0061711306

    Christine Korsgaard, Fellow Creatures https://global.oup.com/academic/product/fellow-creatures-9780198753858?cc=ca&lang=en&

    Alice Crary, Inside Ethics https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674967816

    Thomas Nagel, What is it like to be a bat? https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/study/ugmodules/humananimalstudies/lectures/32/nagel_bat.pdf

    Cows coming out after winter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA8dAnlD51o&ab_channel=CowSignals

    James Rebanks, The Herdy Shepherd

    Janet Gyatso on Harvard Divinity School website https://hds.harvard.edu/people/janet-gyatso


    • 54 min
    Marcus Evans, Teaching Hip Hop and Buddhist Studies

    Marcus Evans, Teaching Hip Hop and Buddhist Studies


    Marcus Evans teaches courses on Asian religions at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, exploring new perspectives and incorporating different voices that help students access and interpret old texts. His teaching integrates and combines classical Buddhist works and contrasts and compares these with the works of modern hip hop artists, helping students to see ways that art, literature, and religion evolve and respond in interrelated ways. In this episode, Sarah Richardson asks him about his research and how he brings fresh voices and perspectives into conversation, taking these as strategies for greater student inclusion and antiracist teaching in the University.


    "The Bhagavad Gita means the Song of the Lord. These brothers, way back in the ancient days, they were rhyming. They were kicking raps.” Marcus Evans 

    “I wanted them to see if they can pick up on this notion of change in itself and how change and impermanence support a Buddhist concept, because that was something that was very subtle in the lyrics.” Marcus Evans

    “I decided to incorporate black American voices into this [course]. I was thinking about it in a way of decentering whiteness and looking at the narrative of transmission of Asian texts to North America by decentering the white gaze.” Marcus Evans

    "Which voices can I bring in to challenge the standard way that we do it? This is effective in itself, even in just the people that we attract to the course.” Marcus Evans

    “You know, when I taught my course the Great Books of Asian Religions, it was so fascinating because when I looked into the audience it was the first time that I saw a lot of black in the audience, I had never really seen that in a religious studies course.” Marcus Evans

    Music References


    Wu-Tang Clan

    Nicki Minaj 

    T.I., “I Believe” https://youtu.be/0GsVTsuPyOg

    Killer Mike 


    Tina Turner

    Dead Prez, “Learning, Growing, Changing” https://youtu.be/ttHukW70TAM 

    Stic.man, The Workout, 2011 https://open.spotify.com/album/5LHhOmal06SQEBREgV7hR1?si=ikA7LKDlQWuy_lkW3AMwIQ 

    Dead Prez, Let’s Get Free, 2000 https://open.spotify.com/album/7gXuElmegVReY7imkb5bf8?si=ubkZ20qGTX6UYWJzsjrbyg 

    Dead Prez, Information Age, 2013 https://open.spotify.com/album/1ctEzpKcYukYAOXpyXx7C9?si=WNdJii0qQkmk4-zNcb7CVg 

    Links to articles and books

    Marcus Evans, PhD Candidate at McMaster University


    James Robson. “Daoism.” In Norton Anthology of World Religions, edited by James Miles. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/563049/the-norton-anthology-of-world-religions-daoism-by-james-robson/9780393355000 

    Malory Nye. Religion: The Basics. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008. https://www.routledge.com/Religion-The-Basics/Nye/p/book/9780415449489

    KRS-One. Ruminations: A Philosophical Outlook on Urban Hip-Hop. New York, NY: Welcome Rain Publishers, 2003. https://www.amazon.com/KRS-ONE-Ruminations/dp/1566492742 

    KRS One. The Gospel of Hip Hop: First Instrument. Brooklyn, NY: PowerHouse Books, 2009. https://powerhousebooks.com/books/the-gospel-of-hip-hop-first-instrument/

    Ellie Hisama. “‘We’re All Asian Really’: Hip Hop’s Afro-Asian Crossings.” In Critical Minded: New Approaches to Hip Hop Studies, edited by Ellie Hisama and Evan Rapport, 1–21. Brooklyn, NY: Institute for Studies in American Music, 2005.

    Bill V. Mullen. Afro-Orientalism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/afro-orientalism 

    Deborah Elizabeth Whaley. “Black Bodies/Yellow Masks: The Orientalist Aesthetic in Hip-hop and Black Visual Culture.” In Afro-Asian Encounters, edited by Heike Raphael-Hernandez and Shannon Steen, pp. 188–203. New York, NY, New York University Press, 2006.  https://www.jstor.org/stable/40301281 

    Christopher M. Driscoll and Monica R. Miller

    • 1 hr 17 min
    Rima Vesely-Flad, Learning about Black Buddhist Dharma Teachers and Healing Justice

    Rima Vesely-Flad, Learning about Black Buddhist Dharma Teachers and Healing Justice


    Rima Vesely-Flad teaches at Warren Wilson College exploring the intersections of Buddhism, race, and gender. Her teaching is deeply entwined with her current research on Buddhist teachers of African descent in the United states, particularly in the Vipassana tradition.

    Buddhism as it was adopted in North America has reflected the racism and discriminatory ideologies of this society. Rima researches how Black Buddhist teachers are doing things differently—and how Buddhist institutions in North America and contemporary Buddhist teachings are changing as a result. As more Black teachers are coming into positions of power in the US, authoring books, providing teachings, they are making new articulations of the dharma and carving spaces of liberation from dominant social messages.

    Black Buddhist teachers, many of whom also self-identify as queer, show how dharma can be a great vehicle for recognizing that historical harm was done and continues to be done, and to working with that recognition. They disrupt the status quo, bringing about new awareness based on embodied experience, and bringing attention to internalized racism and inter-generational trauma.

    With the tools that Buddhism provides to address, name, and be in discomfort, these teachers are making a different dharma possible: a space of resistance and healing to the pervasive ideologies of white supremacy. Teaching and reading this material with students, both white and marginalized, and gender non-conforming, Rima provides expansive opportunities for all to recognize the work that remains.


    “Let’s take not only Black people who are marginalized in society and value their bodies and value their spirits and value their persons, but let’s also take the most marginalized folks within Black communities and privilege their voices and their experiences so that in this movement not only do we have many, many self-identified queer leaders, but we also have an emphasis on transgender persons and the disproportionate violence especially against Black transgender women.” Rima Vesely-Flad

    “Spirit Rock just graduated a teacher group that was 90% people of colour. That’s unprecedented!” Rima Vesely-Flad

    “IMS is about to graduate a teacher group that is 70% people of colour.” Rima Vesely-Flad

    “When I did the research for my book, which pertains only to people of African descent both who are recognized teachers but also who are long-time practitioners, it turns out that almost 63% self-identify as queer. That’s a very big deal.” Rima Vesely-Flad

    “In that privileging of the body, these teachers are saying we work with the body, the body is our vehicle towards liberation and our social experiences and how we’re constructed needs to get named as much as they need to be transcended. So that there is within these spaces a recognizing of how racism is internalized, the overt violence that gets enacted, the level of fear with which we move in our broader society, all of that gets named and put out there.” Rima Vesely-Flad

    “The practice of liberation is not simply to achieve these different states of mind, but it’s also to say that liberation means a kind of transcending of those dominant, damaging messages that we have internalized so that we are not always in reaction to white supremacy.” Rima Vesely-Flad

    “One of the reasons I think these teachings from these Black teachers are so profound is that you can tell that they have managed to live in a different way. They are not always moving against white supremacy. They are not changing their patterns, not changing their bodies, not always in reaction to the degradation that has been part of the waters we all swim in.” Rima Vesely-Flad

     “Predominantly white Buddhist sanghas and retreat structures and governing structures in the United States have not taken seriously that fact that racism can flourish in those communities and that that needs to be named and

    • 1 hr 5 min
    Embodied Learning on Interdependence

    Embodied Learning on Interdependence


    How do students learn and what do they value six months after a course? What do students get from embodied and experiential learning? In this episode, Sarah interviews five students who all took the same course about interdependence at the University of Toronto in the Fall of 2019. In these interviews, conducted well after the course and when the world has been plunged into a global pandemic, students reflect on how the course changed them and their ways of understanding themselves and their worlds. Hear from students about just how transformational these embodied practices were, and how this kind of learning that intentionally used class time to work with putting things into a physical practice changed their relationship to a core Buddhist studies concept-- interdependence-- and what they are doing with that six months on. Listen and find inspiration to try new things in your classes too!


    “I wasn't just learning about interdependence, but I was learning also about myself.” Xinran Huang

    “I had an incredible sense of gratitude and awe at what my body was and what it gives me. It was pretty powerful. Sam Keravica

    “I found out that memory isn't real, it's practiced.” Sally Andrews

    “I'm struggling to articulate the kind of bodily realization of how we are intimately connected with each other, even beyond thoughts.” Richard Wu

    “We have to open our circle of concern for this collective self that we're trying to protect.” Aaron Marshall

    Links and References

    Kriti Sharma, Interdependence, Biology and Beyond

    Alexis Shotwell, Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times

    Frances Garrett’s description of the course

    • 40 min
    Daigengna Duoer, Teaching a Zen Buddhism Course Online with Student Preferences in Mind

    Daigengna Duoer, Teaching a Zen Buddhism Course Online with Student Preferences in Mind


    Gathering data about student expectations and experiences with new technology is essential to developing effective courses to be delivered online during the pandemic. In this interview we spoke with Daigengna Duoer, who taught an online course on Zen Buddhism at UC Santa Barbara this past summer. Daigengna repeatedly surveyed her students to evaluate their preferences and comfort with the format and content of the course. In this episode, we hear about some creative and specific ways she created an engaging asynchronous learning experience in a course that was taught entirely remotely. Some key take-aways? One-on-one zoom meetings to develop paper topics, a preference for asynchronous, but also short, lectures, and being sure to build a course that allows students to focus on topics of real interest to them. 


    "I was really shocked after reading the results from the survey. Actually 74% of my students actually preferred asynchronous. And then the rest preferred a mix. Nobody or 0% preferred 100% synchronous formats." Daigengna Duoer

    "74% of my students actually preferred asynchronous. I was really shocked. 0% preferred 100% synchronous formats." Daigengna Duoer

    "Teaching in covid-19 really made me become more aware about how students learn, how they want to learn, what they want to learn, especially when it comes to Buddhism and also Zen, things like this, so they are really technology-oriented, but they're also very flexible, I think, and they really want relevant information and material and also arguments for their immediate concerns." Daigengna Duoer

    "One of the advantages we have as instructors of humanities courses where we can definitely teach this exciting content, but we can also teach, useful transferable skills through this content to students." Daigengna Duoer

    Links and References  

    Daigengna Duoer, UC Santa Barbara, Department of Religious Studies  


    Daigengna’s Personal Website 


    Panopto video recording and sharing software


    Ronald Purser, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality 


    Hwansoo Kim, "The Adventures of a Japanese Monk in Colonial Korea: Sōma Shōei's Zen Training with Korean Masters"


    Joshua Irizarry, "Putting a Price on Zen: The Business of Redefining Religion for Global Consumption"


    Peter Romaskiewicz, Mind Lab exercises 


    • 1 hr 6 min

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