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2023 M.A. Comparative Religion Graduate Highlights

December 22, 2023


  • Degree program and department: MA Comparative Religion, JSIS, UW
  • Research/academic interests: My academic interest lies in studying the religions of South Asia specifically Buddhism and Hinduism, their history, language, and culture from the beginning to the modern period. Also, religious social-political importance for the historically marginalized communities in South Asia. I study Pali, Sanskrit, and Prakrit languages to deepen the understanding of the literature, people, and culture, and how religion has changed.
  • Title(s) of thesis / dissertation / final paper(s): Two Paper- 1st Paper: Navayana Buddhism: Reclaiming New Identity and Interpreting Religion. 2nd Paper- The Struggle against Caste: From Local to Global
  • Honors, awards, and fellowships you’d like to share? (i.e. FLAS, Conlon, Fulbright, IACS, etc.):
    •  Academic Year 2021-2022
      • Top Scholar Award 2021-22
      • Domoto and Eugene Webb Fellowship 2021-22
      • IAWW Scholarship
      • Frank F. Conlon Endowed Fellowship for Summer Language Program 2021
    • Academic Year 2022-23 
      • Frank F. Conlon Endowed Fellowship in South Asia Studies 2022-23
      • Khyentse-Husky Buddhist Studies Fellowships 2022-23
      • Domoto and Eugene Webb Fellowship 2022-23
      • Eugene and Marilyn D Webb Scholarship in Comparative Religion 2022-23
      • Joan W. Welk Endowed Fellowship in Comparative Religion 2022-23
  • Favorite class? I like classes of Theorised Religion, South Asia Studies I-II, Sanskrit, Public Writing, Feminist Research and Methods, Social Movements in India,
  • Future plans after graduation? I will be joining the doctoral program in Religious Studies at Stanford University.
  • Advice for new students? I would advise the new student that we have the best resources at our hand to achieve the goal, please utilize them. I always interacted with faculties and students to solve all the problems. They are really open minded to understand you.

As a graduate student of UW in the Comparative Religion program has played a significant role for the critical study of religion. This program has helped me to understand the ‘religion’  as a concept, institution, and as a social fact from historical, political, social, cultural, and philosophical point of view. In these two years, I studied languages such as Sanskrit and Pali. Similarly, I took courses in the field of South Asian Studies, and Feminist Studies. I have also produced two papers to understand the ‘religion’ in the modern period of South Asia specifically from the point of view of historically marginalized social groups. First paper deals with the religious question of Dalits, and the emergence of religious movement in the form of conversion to Buddhism, and also how Buddhism plays an important role in sociology-political developments. On the other hand, the second paper tried to understand the caste system in the US, and how Dalits are fighting against the caste-discrimination. This program has helped me to further move into deeper and higher education in the field of religious studies.


LESLIE KATSMAN, Comparative Religion

I approached this program while working full-time and also being active within my congregation.  While I was pursuing ministry coursework, I also wanted to engage in an academic and cross-cultural study of religion for a better grounding.  This program was flexible and allowed to attend part-time over a longer period (three years instead of two) so I could continue working and also become ordained as a Minister of Satan.

Even from the first day, I had been concerned that I would not be able to find a thesis topic that would incorporate my primary interests as well as connect with the culture associated with my foreign language.  My primary advisor gave me the best advice: to stay open to the places my classes might take me.  While I have no background with the military, by the end of my second year I found that I had twice written on war memorials, just as I was about to start an Independent Study with the professor in the field of the comparative study of death.  Eventually, my thesis involved a discussion of Arlington National Cemetery and Yasukuni Shrine, which incorporated my interests in the separation of religion and state (or the undermining of that separation), treatment of the dead, and also Japan.  By following my studies to some unexpected places, my thesis concentration could come together organically.

THESIS: Haunted Modernity: Fallen Soldiers as Vehicles for the Fusion of Religion and the State at Yasukuni Shrine and Arlington National Cemetery

The U.S. and Japan employ a discursive separation of religious belief and practice, and a downplaying or disavowal of the power of practice, to incorporate religion into the physical and ritual structures of national commemorative sites, despite constitutional mandates for separation of religion and state. This works to influence people’s beliefs and emotional investments to align with national agendas. More specifically, these states engage in the management of emotions surrounding the war dead to shape religious beliefs and attitudes to redirect grief from war losses into emotive fuel for patriotism, and hide these projects in plain sight though the use of material and ritual practices. The management and commemoration of war dead at Arlington National Cemetery and at Yasukuni Shrine bear this out.



Comparative Religion Staff