AAS Member Spotlight: Robert Ford Campany

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Dr. Rob Campany, Vanderbilt University, Professor, Asian Studies and Religious Studies

Religion; China and East Asia

How long have you been a member of AAS?

31 years

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I joined because I wanted to keep abreast of current work in my fields of interest, and also to make a mark on those fields by presenting my own work. Yes, I would certainly recommend AAS to colleagues, particularly ones in the early stages of their careers.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

By accident. At the time I was graduating from college, I was fortunate to win a Luce Scholarship, which sent me to live and work in Taiwan for a year. I became fascinated by Chinese culture, language, and religion, and have never once regretted my decision to focus my studies there rather than on the religious and cultural history of Europe, which had been my previous plan.

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

In research, I enjoy the creativity involved in thinking about ancient texts in new ways. In teaching, I find it very rewarding to bring awareness of Asian cultures to North American students. Also, increasingly, it's very rewarding to teach students from China about the religious history of their own country. 

Tell us about your current or past research.

I'm a historian of Chinese religions and of the study of religion. My work focuses on the period from around 100 to 600 CE and looks primarily at aspects of Daoism, Buddhism, and so-called popular religion. Primarily I am trying to bring the study of Chinese religions into deeper conversation with the cross-cultural study of religion. Each field has much to learn from the other.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

By all means get the specialist tools needed for work in Asian Studies--I mean by this primarily the language skills necessary. But, along the way, don't forget to also develop the capacity to explain the importance of your work by relating it to larger problems, questions, topics, categories, etc., outside of Asia. Too often, I think, Asianists get lost in the details of what they research--understandably so, since it takes so many years and so much effort to gain access to those details. Remember to also retain the ability to explain your work's significance to those who lack command of the details you are well versed in.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

I am an amateur singer and karaoke enthusiast. I am a fancier of good wine, and I enjoy cooking and travel. I was an Eagle Scout. I had a serious medical situation at age 24 and count myself especially fortunate to have been able to live all these years past that age. 

"...don't forget to also develop the capacity to explain the importance of your work by relating it to larger problems, questions, topics, categories, etc., outside of Asia."

— Robert Ford Campany