AAS Member Spotlight: Justin McDaniel

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Justin Thomas McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania, Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies

History, Manuscript Studies, Textual Anthropology, and Art History in Laos and Thailand

How long have you been a member of AAS?

I have been an AAS member since 1996

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

It is the best conference for Asian Studies in the world. The conferences are always extremely well-organized. The Journal of Asian Studies is the premier journal in the field, and the new AAS-in-Asia is a wonderful initiative. I especially like the way the AAS supports scholars from less commonly represented countries like Laos and Cambodia.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

I first became interested in Asian Studies as a volunteer in Southeast Asia when I was 20 years old.

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

The most rewarding aspects of the AAS are the chances to learn from people from all part of world about the latest developments in the field.

Tell us about your current or past research.

My research foci include Lao, Thai, Pali and Sanskrit literature, art and architecture, and manuscript studies.  My first book, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words, won the Harry Benda Prize. My second book, The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magic Monk, won the Kahin Prize. I have received grants from the NEH, Mellon, Rockefeller, Fulbright, PACRIM, Luce, the SSRC, among others. I am the co-editor of the journals: Buddhism Compass, Journal of Lao Studies, and Associate Editor of The Journal of Asian Studies. I have won teaching and advising awards at Harvard U, Ohio U, the University of California, and the Ludwig Prize for Teaching at Penn. In 2012 I was named a Guggenheim Fellow and in 2014 a fellow of Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies. My forthcoming work includes edited books on Thai Manuscripts, Buddhist Biographies, and Buddhist ritual. I also have a new book on modern Buddhist architecture (Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2016). 

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

I would advise all students in Asian Studies to focus on languages as much as possible and spend as much time you can in the field. Don't just learn about your subject, but from your subject.

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

I have been a bartender off and on for a number of years and my family and I are big punk and jazz fans.

McDaniel, Justin

"I would advise all students in Asian Studies to focus on languages as much as possible."

— Justin McDaniel