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Benn James A., Professor | Director, McMaster University Centre for Buddhist Studies

photo of James A. Benn

James A. Benn

Professor | Director, McMaster University Centre for Buddhist Studies

Department of Religious Studies

Area(s) of Interest:


Research Interests

I was trained primarily as a scholar of medieval Chinese religions (Buddhism and Taoism).  My research is aimed at understanding the practices and world views of medieval men and women, both religious and lay, through the close reading of primary sources in literary Chinese—the lingua franca of East Asian religions.  I have concentrated on three major areas of research: bodily practice in Chinese Religions; the ways in which people create and transmit new religious practices and doctrines; and the religious dimensions of commodity culture.  In particular I have worked on self-immolation, Chinese Buddhist apocrypha, and the religious and cultural history of tea.


  • University of California, Los Angeles, Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Cultures (Chinese Buddhism), 2001
    • Advisor: Robert Buswell
    • Dissertation: "Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in Chinese Buddhism"
  • School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, M.A. in Religious Studies (with Distinction), 1994
    • Advisor: T. H. Barrett
    • Thesis: Temperance Tracts and Teetotallers under the T’ang: Buddhism, Alcohol and Tea in Mediaeval China
  • University of Cambridge (St. John’s College), BA, MA in Oriental Studies (Chinese), 1986
    • Special Subject: Tang Intellectual History
    • supervised by T. H. Barrett and David McMullen  




Religious Studies 2K03. Introduction to Buddhism
Arts&Science/Religious Studies 3S03. East Asian Religious Traditions.
Religious Studies 3UU3. Buddhism in East Asia.
Religious Studies 4H03. Topics in Asian Religions: Life Writings in Asian Religions.


Religious Studies 712. Topics in the Study of Chinese Buddhist Texts I: Translated Texts.
Religious Studies 713. Topics in the Study of Chinese Buddhist Texts II: Indigenous Chinese Writings.
Religious Studies 717. Topics in Chinese Buddhism: Recent Scholarship.
Religious Studies 724. Topics in Taoism.



Edited Volumes

  • Buddhism and Peace: Issues of Violence, Wars and Self-sacrifice. Edited by James A. Benn, and Jinhua Chen. Hualien: Tzu Chi University Press, 2007.

Journal Articles