Paul McBain

Paul McBain

PhD, 2020


Paul McBain began his academic journey with an interest in Japanese literature like that of Matsuo Basho and Yasunari Kawabata, which led him to study his BA in Japanese. During the course of his graduate studies he shifted to the study of Southeast Asian Buddhism. This was partly because, while living in Thailand, he searched bookstores for a good book on Thai literature and Buddhism and felt that he could never quite find what he was looking for. His chief interest is still in the aesthetics of Buddhism in poetry, narrative and film. His dissertation was on Sunthorn Phu, a nineteenth-century poet considered the ‘Shakespeare of Thailand.’ By taking a poet who is not normally thought of as Buddhist, the study aims to explore the ways in which a quite particular inflection of Buddhist narrative, legend and poetry was inscribed in the local landscape of early Bangkok. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Paul studied literary theory and courses in media and filmmaking. Paul also has an interest in phenomenological approaches to religion such as landscape studies, religion and film as well as querying how modernity relates to religion now and in the way we understand the past. Paul has a background in working with education-based NGOs in Southeast Asia and has produced short films on Buddhism and other topics.  He currently resides in Thailand and he is a full-time lecturer at Thammasat University.


BA in Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

MA in Divinity at the University of Chicago

PhD in Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania 

Research Interests

Buddhism and literature

Buddhism and film

Buddhist modernism

Thai and Japanese film and literature.


Research Areas
Asian Religions
Intellectual History
Modernities, Secularism, and Science
Courses Taught

Fall 2016: Teaching Assistant, “Popular Japanese Culture"

Fall 2017: Teaching Assistant, "Women and Religion"

Spring 2018: Teaching Assistant, “Introduction to Buddhism"

Summer 2018: Teaching Assistant, "Gods, Ghosts and Monsters"