Bowdoin’s John Holt, professor of religion and Asian studies, has snagged a 2014 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship to examine the violence of Buddhist extremists against Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka and Burma.
Holt’s award is the third Guggenheim Fellowship in three consecutive years for a Bowdoin faculty member. In 2013 a Guggenheim went to art professor Michael Kolster for his photography project ‘Take Me to the River,’ and in 2012 Kristen Ghodsee of gender and women’s studies won a Guggenheim to investigate the communist-era Bulgarian women’s movement.
Not to be outdone, Bowdoin’s alumni have also achieved a Guggenheim trifecta: 2014 winner Deke Weaver ’85, a performance and multimedia artist, was preceded by poet L. S. Asekoff ’61 in 2013 and playwright Adam Bock ’84 in 2012. Other Bowdoin faculty and alumni to win Guggenheims in recent history include writer Anthony Doerr ’95 in 2010, history professor Allen Wells in 2006, physics and astronomy professor Thomas Baumgarte in 2004, and biology professor Patsy Dickinson in 1999.
As winners of this prestigious fellowship – which was established in 1925 to “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding and the appreciation of beauty” – Holt and his colleagues have joined an elite group of scholars, scientists, and artists that includes dozens of Nobel Laureates, poet laureates, and winners of honors such as Pulitzer Prizes and Fields Medals.
A faculty member at Bowdoin since 1978, Holt teaches courses about Buddhism and other Asian religious traditions as well as courses on theoretical approaches to the study of religion. In 1982, he founded the Inter-collegiate Sri Lanka Education Program for a consortium of liberal arts colleges and in 1986 he became the first chair of Bowdoin’s Asian Studies Program.
Holt has traveled extensively in pursuit of his studies, writing and editing many books, chapters, and articles including the forthcoming volume Theravada Traditions: Buddhism and Religious Cultures in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. For his Guggenheim project he will search for “the roots and means for violent articulations of exclusivity” by certain Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Burma, while also assessing how Muslim communities respond to those attacks.
“In addition to an analytical and historical reprise,” Holt writes, “my study seeks to complicate how Euro-American stereotypes of Buddhists (as thoroughgoing peaceful peoples), and Muslims (as radical “jihadists”) are misconceived constructions, at least within these contemporary social and political contexts in South and Southeast Asia.”