I am a transdisciplinary humanities scholar who is fascinated by historical and contemporary intersections between Buddhism, medicine, and crosscultural exchange. I have a Ph.D. in History of Medicine from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (2010), and teach Asian history, medicine, and religion at Penn State University’s Abington College, located near Philadelphia.
The major theme in my scholarship is discovering the role of Buddhism in the global transmission and local reception of knowledge about health, disease, and the body. I approach this topic using methodologies from history, religious studies, translation studies, and literary studies. More recently, I have gotten into ethnography and documentary filmmaking as well.
I am continually seeking opportunities to cross disciplinary lines in publishing and presenting my work. I regularly publish writing for non-scholarly audiences, and am passionate about connecting my scholarship and teaching with contemporary issues and events both within and beyond the academy.
I come from a bilingual and transnational Latino family with roots in Colombia, Uruguay, Spain, England, and the US. I spent my early childhood in Canada and Paraguay, and moved to the US during elementary school. All of this is to say that my interests in crosscultural exchange, translation, and global movements of ideas came to me quite naturally!
I began pursuing my longstanding interest in Asian religion and medicine as an undergraduate majoring in Anthropology and Cognitive Science and minoring in East Asian Studies at the University of Virginia. After graduating in 1996, I lived in Asia for four years — more than two years in Thailand, with extended stays in India, China, and Indonesia as well. During this time, I trained as a practitioner of Traditional Thai Medicine (TTM), and spent time learning hatha-yoga and other Asian healing modalities. I also participated in extended stays at Buddhist meditation centers and monasteries in Northeast Thailand and India, including a summer as ananāgārika (white-robed monastic resident) in a Thai Forest-tradition monastery. Although I am neither a yogi nor a Buddhist, I have remained engaged in spiritual practice throughout the rest of my adult life.
While I was working as a practitioner of TTM, I wrote several book about the practice of Thai massage, herbal medicine, and spiritual healing traditions. When I became a graduate student, however, I left behind clinical practice in order to intensively pursue academic approaches to Asian medicine. I returned to the University of Virginia in 2002 to pursue a Master’s Degree in East Asian Studies. My thesis explored the cultural influences that led to the creation of modern TTM. In 2005, I entered the Ph.D. program in the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins, where I completed fields in the global history of medicine with emphasis on the relationship between Buddhism and medicine in medieval China.
I joined the faculty at Abington College in 2010, where my research and writing has continued to focus on the history and contemporary relationship between Buddhism and medicine. My time at Abington College, a minority-majority institution with an extremely diverse student body, has challenged me to expand and refine my teaching methods with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have also been particularly interested in teaching innovations that promote the use of technology in the classroom. (See more about my teaching.)
Along the way, I have been a humanities fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University. I am active in various Asian Studies organizations in the Philadelphia area and internationally, most notably my involvement with the International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine and the association’s journal, Asian Medicine. I have maintained an active publication schedule, focused on my own writings as well as major collaborative works that are intended to foster the nascent field of the study of “Buddhist medicine.”
Throughout, I have also remained interested in public engagement. I regularly publish books, trade magazine articles, blog posts, and other works for broader audiences. I also frequently have given public lectures at Asian medicine schools, public libraries, and other civic organizations locally, around the US, and internationally. I am passionate about these activities, as I believe they are important ways to promote understanding of religious and medical pluralism, as well as the value of the humanities for our broader society.
The major theme in my scholarship is discovering the role of Buddhism in the global transmission and local reception of knowledge about health, disease, and the body. The “Mindfulness Revolution” has exploded into mainstream popular media in the past decade. As the enthusiasm for the study of the health benefits of meditation has steadily increased, other connections between Buddhism and wellbeing have been almost completely overlooked. My research investigates the rich spectrum of therapeutic repertoires and resources that have been incorporated into the Buddhist tradition, and how these have changed as it has spread across cultures.
Since its inception 24 centuries ago, Buddhism has provided individuals with intellectual tools to frame and understand illness, has shaped health-seeking behaviors in conscious and unconscious ways, and has offered a range of popular therapies and institutional structures for delivering healthcare. These features have been adapted and elaborated across virtually all of Asia, and have often specifically played a major role in the popularization of the religion. Understanding this history helps us to contextualize contemporary developments around mindfulness within a framework that does not privilege the modern or Western vantage point.
I approach this topic using methodologies from history, religious studies, translation studies, and literary studies, among other fields. My research is driven by a series of interlocking questions that are inherently interdisciplinary: What are Buddhism’s teachings about health and wellbeing, and how have those doctrines changed over time? As Buddhism has spread, how has intercultural translation shaped the reception of these ideas and practices in recipient cultures? How has Buddhism intersected with other healing modalities in distinct locations and time periods, and how have these boundaries been negotiated? My research on these questions also engages with theoretical matters of interest to the humanities and social sciences more broadly, such as how to model the interactions between cultures, how to read texts as products of multiple layers of literary and cultural translation, and how to think about the categories of “religion” and “medicine” in crosscultural context.