Michel Mohr, Ph.D.
Office: Sakamaki A-315
Office Hours: Tuesday 12:00–2:00 pm, or by appointment.
Office Phone: Available via the UH Directory
E-mail: Available via the UH Directory
Background and Research Interests
I landed at UH Mānoa in 2007, after a year on the East Coast and two decades in East Asia. My interests have always revolved around Asian religious traditions, their philosophy, and their experiential approaches to religion. This has translated into two Special Issues of the open access journal Religions. The latest one (2020) is titled “Impurity Revisited: Contemplative Practices, Textual Sources, and Visual Representations in Asian Religions.” It follows the organization in 2014 of at Numata Conference at UHM, focused on “Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions.” Some of its papers were published in another Special Issue of Religions (2018) titled “Engaging Violence: Case Studies from the Japanese Religious Traditions.” Beginning with an early focus on Rinzai Zen and Chan Buddhism, the scope of my research has expanded in the direction of Chinese Buddhism, through research conducted in Taiwan in 2015 and at Fudan University in 2019. My latest book focuses on the issue of universality, a “hot topic” whose philosophical implications and ethical components will keep me thoroughly engaged during this lifetime.
- University of Geneva, Switzerland, Ph.D. (Doctorat ès Lettres), 1992
- University of Geneva, Switzerland, Licence ès Lettres in History of Religions, 1982 (similar to an M.A. in the American academia)
Buddhism, Unitarianism, and the Meiji Competition for Universality. Harvard East Asian Monographs 351. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2014.
This book explores a neglected but crucial page of Japanese and American religious and intellectual history. This book focuses on debates sparked by the encounter between Unitarianism and Buddhism in Japan between 1887 and 1922. Its last chapter articulates philosophical ideas related to universality and the importance of reopening the debate that was aborted in the early twentieth century.
Traité sur l’Inépuisable Lampe du Zen: Tōrei (1721–1792) et sa vision de l’éveil (Treatise on the Inexhaustible Lamp of Zen: Tōrei and his Vision of Awakening), 2 vols. Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques vol. XXVIII. Brussels (Bruxelles) 1997: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, in French.
The published version of my Ph.D. dissertation, the first complete translation of a Zen meditation treatise, which highlights the gap between the western interpretations of Zen and the way a major representative of the Rinzai tradition conceived its practice. A revised translation of the same text into English is under way.
Recent Articles and Book Chapters
- “The Japanese People’s Spirit (1912), Shaku Sōen.” In Buddhism and Modernity: Sources from Nineteenth-Century Japan, edited by Orion Klautau and Hans Martin Krämer, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2021, pp. 253–265.
- “Advanced Contemplation of the Impure: Reflections on a Capstone Event in the Meditation Sutra.” Religions 11, no. 8, July 2020. https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/11/8/386
- “Immeasurable Devices: Their Treatment in the Damoduoluo chanjing and Further Distillation in Japanese Zen.” Dharma Drum Journal of Buddhist Studies 16, July 2015, pp. 63–94. A novel attempt to contextualize loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity by examining their transsectarian facet.
- “Filial Piety with a Zen Twist: Universalism and Particularism Surrounding the Sutra on the Difficulty of Reciprocating the Kindness of Parents,” Journal of Religion in Japan 2 (1), May 2013, pp. 35–62. Filial piety is usually associated with Confucianism, whereas Buddhists have been eager to appropriate this concept and to formulate their distinctive approach to it.
- “Plowing the Zen Field: Trends since 1989 and Emerging Perspectives,” Religion Compass 6 (2), 2012, pp. 113–124. A critical review of the state of the field in Zen studies.
- “Sengai’s Multifaceted Legacy,” In Zen Master Sengai: 1750–1837, edited by Katharina Epprecht. Zürich: Scheidegger and Spiess, 2014, pp. 16–24. Discussion of one of the most famous calligraphers and Zen masters in the catalogue for the Rietberg Museum exhibition.
- “The Use of Traps and Snares: Shaku Sōen Revisited” in Zen Masters, edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 183–216. First step toward contextualizing the life and work of the teacher who played an instrumental role in introducing Zen to the West.
- “Beyond Awareness: Tōrei Enji’s Understanding of Realization in the Treatise on the Inexhaustible Lamp of Zen, Chapter 6.” In Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, edited by William Edelglass, and Jay L. Garfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 159–170. Contextualized translation and reading of a Zen primary source.
- “Invocation of the Sage: The Ritual to Glorify the Emperor.” In Zen Ritual: Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice, edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 205–222. Attempt to examine a particular Chan and Zen ritual still performed in today’s monasteries.
Courses Regularly Offered
- REL 203 Understanding Chinese Religions
- REL 204 Understanding Japanese Religions
- REL 207 Understanding Buddhism
- REL 394 On Death and Dying
- REL 475 Seminar on Buddhism
- REL 490 Buddhism in Japan
- REL 625 Applied Methods in the Study of Religion
- REL 661C Japanese Religions Seminar
- REL 661D Seminar on East Asian Buddhism
For complete course descriptions see UH Mānoa Course Catalog.