AAS Member Spotlight: Michael Jerryson

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Dr. Michael Jerryson, Associate Professor, Philosophy and Religious Studies Department, Youngstown State University

Religious Studies; Thailand (Southeast Asia), India and Sri Lanka (South Asia), and Mongolia (Central Asia)

How long have you been a member of AAS?

I began attending the AAS since I was a graduate student in 1999. However, I became a member in 2003, so over 10 years.

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

Initially, I attended AAS because it hosted the largest consortium of scholars in the United States that specialized in the part of the world I studied. However, as I began to learn more about the AAS, I came to realize how it provides necessary foundations for any scholarship related to Asia. 

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

My first involvement in Asian Studies was in high school, when I took Japanese. Through the study of language, I became interested in Japanese culture and history. However, it was not until I joined the United States Peace Corps and went to Mongolia in 1997 that this interest blossomed into an academic venture.

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

In this age of increasing globalization, it has become imperative for people in the United States to understand Asian cultures, practices, and religions. One of the more rewarding experiences in Asian Studies is learning languages, history, and politics. They inform global patterns of governance, economic structures, and provide a deeper understanding of current events. This also enables me to provide a thick description to religion and, more importantly, the greater relevance religion has to my students in their locality and career trajectories.

Tell us about your current or past research.

In the past, my research has been on the role of religion and violence. Initially, I pursued what I encountered during my time in the United States Peace Corps, namely the largely overlooked genocide in twentieth century Mongolia. One seventh of the population was eliminated due to their affiliation with Buddhist monasticism. I gathered oral narratives to reconstruct a recent past that had been suppressed and which, to some extent, continues to be so today.

During my doctoral work, I spent time in southern Thailand in order to observe the ways in which Buddhist monks affected the violence and how the violence affected them. This led me into a larger discussion of Buddhist roles in violence and the more recent conflicts between Buddhists and non-Buddhists in Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

Violence enacts on a more systemic level through societal prejudices. In the last several years, I have looked more closely at the role religion has in legitimating societal prejudices with regard to race, gender, and sexual orientation. 

The issue of religion and violence led me to questions about people's coping strategies in times of violence. I went to Thailand's Deep South, and researched the ways in which Buddhism and Islam informs the civilian population's mental resiliency. Currently, I am completing a manuscript that examines the role violence has in transforming people, their cultures, and traditions. 

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

If the student is born outside of Asia, a career in Asian Studies provides her/him with an ability to communicate and work more effectively with half of the world's population. In a circuitous fashion, it also teaches you more about your own culture and yourself -- which I find invaluable. As Asian Studies continues to expand and growth, try not to limit yourself to specific locations. While it is important to ground yourself in particular languages and histories, it is the transnational patterns and flows that unearth powerful insights that span across disciplines, such as Clifford Geertz's and Benedict Anderson's work in Indonesia and James C. Scott's work in Malaysia.

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

I am a wine enthusiast and amateur brandy maker. In my spare time (which as a father of two, has become increasingly limited), I relish reading fantasy and scientific works-- and I have enjoyed the comic books of my youth finding their place on the silver screen today. However, I miss my days playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons -- and opportunities to poorly, but happily, engage in social forms of Karaoke.

"In this age of increasing globalization, it has become imperative for people in the United States to understand Asian cultures, practices, and religions."

— Michael Jerryson