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Bryan J. Cuevas

John F. Priest Professor of Religion

Departmental Area: History and Ethnography of Religions
Research Areas : Buddhist and Tibetan Studies

Address: Department of Religion
641 University Way / P.O. Box 3061520
The Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1520
Office: 120E Dodd Hall
Email: bcuevas@fsu.edu
Office Hours: By appointment


Bryan J. Cuevas (Ph.D. University of Virginia) teaches courses in Asian religious traditions, specializing in Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhism, Tibetan history, language, and culture. His research focuses on Tibetan history and historiography, the social history of death and death-related practices, Buddhist popular religion, and the politics of religious power in medieval Tibetan society.

He is currently working on a study of Tibetan sorcery and the politics of Buddhist ritual magic in Tibet through the eighteenth century. He is the author of Travels in the Netherworld: Buddhist Popular Narratives of Death and the Afterlife in Tibet (Oxford, 2008) and The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Oxford, 2003). He is also the co-editor of The Buddhist Dead: Practices, Discourses, Representations, with Jacqueline I. Stone (Kuroda Institute/Hawai'i, 2007) and Power, Politics, and the Reinvention of Tradition: Tibet in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, with Kurtis R. Schaeffer (Brill, 2006). Most recently, he is the translator of The All-Pervading Melodious Drumbeat: The Life of Ra Lotsawa (Penguin Classics, 2015), the biography of Tibet’s most notorious Buddhist sorcerer. His recent articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Journal of Asian Studies, History of Religions, Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, and Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, as well as contributions to several anthologies on Tibetan literature, history, and ritual studies.

Dr. Cuevas has been a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2007-08) and has held visiting appointments at UC Berkeley (2005-06), Princeton University (2001-02), and Emory University (2000). He has also been the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Institute of Indian Studies. He currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Academy of Religionand is book review editor for the Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies.



  • Dr. Cuevas has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship

  • Featured on New Books Network : New Books in Buddhist Studies
    Bryan Cuevas, Travels in the Netherworld: Buddhist Popular Narratives of Death and the Afterlife in Tibet. Oxford University Press, 2008. Interview by Scott Mitchell on September 23, 2011
    To read the article and listen to the podcast, click here.

  • FSU News Item : FSU vaults to top-tier in Asian studies


Recent Courses

Spring 2016

REL3935-01   Topics in Buddhism: Demons & The Mythology of Evil
Is there a concept of evil in Buddhism? This course addresses that important question by examining traditional Buddhist interpretations of delusion, sin, and misfortune, as well as exploring the multiple and shifting representations of the “demonic” in textual, historical, and social contexts. Specifically, the course investigates the role of demons and other troublesome spirits at the center of Buddhist traditions across Asia, including India, China, and Tibet, drawing together popular Buddhist myths and legends, canonical scriptures, and ritual practices. Emphasis will be on gaining comparative understanding of Buddhist beliefs and practices surrounding demonic entities and assessing whether a concept of “evil” plays a role in Buddhism. Key topics include the Buddhist cosmos and demonology; the Satan-like figure of Māra; relationships between gods, demons, and human beings; ghosts and local spirits; magic and sorcery; demon-caused illness, exorcism, and healing. Meets the Liberal Studies- Cultural Practice and Cross-cultural (x) requirements.

REL4359-02 / RLG5354-02   Death & The Afterlife in Buddhist Cultures 
Death is central to both Buddhist philosophical thought and Buddhism’s traditional social roles. Buddhist teachings stress that all is impermanent; awareness of one's mortality is traditionally said to be a necessary impetus to the religious life. At the same time, performing rites for the well-being of the deceased in their postmortem state has been a chief task of Buddhist ritualists throughout Asia. Rituals and beliefs surrounding death also reflect specific cultural values. In this seminar we will study Buddhist approaches to death, dying, and the afterlife with a focus on South and Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, and Japan. Topics include Buddhist cosmology and the doctrine of karmic causality; tales of exemplary deaths; accounts of journeys to the hells and other postmortem realms; the placation of ghosts, demons, and zombies; Buddhist funerary and mortuary practices; and changes in contemporary Buddhist funerals. We will consider both Buddhist doctrinal teachings and social roles with respect to death and the afterlife, as well as interactions of Buddhism with local religious cultures. The course will run on a seminar format with active and in-depth discussion of readings and intensive individual writing projects.

Fall 2015

REL3340       The Buddhist Tradition
This course is a historical and thematic survey of Buddhism from its beginnings through the modern period. Topics covered include origins and history, doctrine, ethical beliefs, meditation, ritual, and monastic and popular traditions. Some attention will also be given to contemporary forms of Buddhism in America. Part I of this course begins with some foundational concepts in Buddhism. Part II explores the Buddhist schools, theories, and practices in different regions of the world and over a span of 2,500 years. Meets the Liberal Studies- Cultural Practice and Cross-cultural (x) requirements.

REL 4359-01/RLG 5354-01        Seminar: Buddhist Biography/Autobiography
Biography is one of the most central and enduring literary genres of the Buddhist tradition. Religious biography (hagiography) is a form of didactic literature that speaks about the ideal Buddhist life, with the Buddha's own life serving as the paradigm for all Buddhists, monks, nuns, and laity alike. But Buddhist biography is more than a popular vehicle for religious instruction; it is also a particular type of historical writing, one that emphasizes individual agency and views the subject as a point at which diverse historical forces converge. This is apparent also in religious autobiography, which promises a more intimate portrait of the “self” in history in relation to the world. In this seminar we examine the nature of Buddhist sacred life writing with a focus on traditional Buddhist hagiography and autobiography in India, Tibet, China, and Japan. Issues addressed will include biography as history, sociocultural constructions of experience, aspects of the self-consciousness of personality, and the availability of particular identity roles transmitted through texts. The course will run on a seminar format with active and in-depth discussion of readings and intensive individual writing projects.

RLG5354           Buddhist Biography 

RLG5356           Readings in Tibetan