Karen Derris

Professor, Religion

Degrees: Ph.D., Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University, 2000; M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1993; A.B., Brown University, 1990

Office: Religion , Bekins Hall #105

Office Hours: Mondays 11 -12 a.m. & by appointment

Phone: 909/748-8680 Campus Ext. 8680



Current Research and Areas of Expertise

My research focuses on the intersection of literature, ethics and history in pre-modern Buddhist traditions. I am currently a part of a collaborative research project on Religious Studies pedagogies and civic engagement funded by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. I am also the Virginia Hunsaker Chair in Distinguished Teaching.

Professional Background

As a scholar of Buddhist traditions in South and Southeast Asia my work focuses on the central importance of community in Buddhist ethical and spiritual development. This interpretation of Buddhist literature offers a different perspective on the tradition than dominant discourses in scholarship on the solitary, individualistic focus of Buddhism. By focusing on narrative texts, previously undervalued in scholarship, I uncover the ways in which relationships over lifetimes support ethical and spiritual development as a process of dependence on others who aid transformation and realization.

My work is in conversation with other Buddhist studies scholars exploring the intersection of narratives and ethics and the central importance of community in Buddhist thought and practice. Collaborative work at invited workshops (“Contours of the Moral Person: Conference in Theravada Buddhist Ethics,” Amherst College August 17-20, 2005) aims to result in collaborative publications in the future.

I have begun a new area of research in pedagogy in religious studies. My recent article, “How to Learn from World Religion Textbooks” (Teaching Theology and Religion, October 2009) considers best approaches for developing students analytical skills in the representations of religions, and I am conducting a collaborative research project, “Religion Studies Pedagogy and Civic Engagement” with fifteen scholar-teachers of Religious Studies across the country funded by the Wabash Center and the Lilly Foundation.

Courses Offered at Redlands

  • World Religions
  • Buddhisms
  • Buddhism and West
  • Buddhist Literary Imaginations
  • Asian Religious Traditions in Southern California
  • Sacred Life stories in Asian Religions
  • Women, Sexuality and Buddhist Tradition
  • ¬†Finding and Losing the Self: Buddhist Concepts of the Self
  • Channeling Belief: Religion and Media

Degrees Held

  • Ph.D., Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University, 2000
  • M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1993
  • A.B., Brown University, 1990

Previous Teaching Experience

  • Lecturer, Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University, 2000-2003
  • Teaching Assistant, Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University, 1995-1998

Awards, Honors and Grants

  • “Teaching Religion for Civic Values,” group research project funded by Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Religion and Theology Lilly Foundation, 2008-2010
  • Wabash Research Grant, Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Religion and Theology Lilly Foundation, summer 2007
  • Wabash Fellowship, Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Religion and Theology Lilly Foundation, 2006-2007
  • Faculty Research Grant, University of Redlands, 2006
  • Faculty Seed Grant from the Center for Business, Ethics and Society, University of Redlands, October 2004
  • Award for Distinction in Teaching, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University, 1996, 1997, 2002
  • Charlotte Newcombe Fellowship, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 1999-2000
  • Harvard Kennedy, Knox, Sheldon Travel Fellowship, Harvard University, Thailand, 1998-1999
  • Fulbright Institute for International Education, Thailand, 1998-1999 (declined)
  • Mellon Dissertation Research Grant, Harvard University, 1998

Publications, Presentations and Panels

“Seeing a Cosmic Sangha: Paccekabuddhas in Pali Commentaries and Mural Paintings at a Thai Monastic Hall.” (submitted Journal of the American Academy of Religion)

“How to Learn from World Religion Textbook,” Teaching Theology and Religion (October 2009)

“When the Buddha Was A Woman: Reimaging Tradition in the Theravada,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 24.2 (2008): 29-44.

Defining Buddhism(s): A Reader, co-edited with Natalie Gummer (Equinox Press, 2007)

“Buddhas and Bodhisattvas: Ethical Significance and Practices” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd Edition, Macmillan Press, January 2005

"Dhyana" in Encyclopedia of Buddhism, McMillan Press, November 2003

Professional Affiliations

  • Johnston Center, Academic Planning Committee
  • Asian Studies Advisory Committee

The University has five Centers of Distinction.
student playing a cello

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