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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

Fall 2016

REL3340        The Buddhist Tradition  
This course surveys the Buddhist tradition from its beginnings through the modern period.  Some attention to its contemporary forms.  Meets Liberal Studies: Cultural Practice (LS-CUL) and Diversity in cross cultural studies (DIV-XCC) requirements.

REL 4359-2 / RLG5354-2    SP Topics Asian Rel: Buddhism and Magic 
This seminar offers a comparative study of the forms and functions of magic, wonder-working powers, and associated rituals in various Buddhist societies across Asia. Emphasis will be on understanding a diversity of beliefs and practices within specific Buddhist social and historical contexts and broad comparisons with Western conceptions and scholarly debates about the category of “magic” in order to assess whether such a concept plays a role in Buddhism. Sustained focus will be on the wide variety of academic approaches to magic as a cross-cultural category and the problematic distinction between the categories “magic” and “religion.” Key questions addressed throughout the course include the following: What is magic? What does magic do? Is magic distinct from religion? Is magic natural or supernatural? What is the role of magic in society? The course will run on a seminar format with active and in-depth discussion of readings and intensive individual writing assignments.

RLG5356        Readings in Tibetan  
This course is a seminar that covers selected primary-source readings in Tibetan language about the religious history of Tibet.  Readings are drawn from a variety of historical periods and genres, including history, biography, Buddhist canonical texts, philosophical treatises, ritual manuals, poetry, and epic narrative.  The course also introduces students to various tools and methods for the study of classical and modern Tibetan literature.

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.