Justin McDaniel

Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Endowed Professor of the Humanities

Cohen Hall


McDaniel's research foci include Lao, Thai, Pali and Sanskrit literature, art and architecture, and manuscript studies. His first book, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words, won the Harry Benda Prize. His second book, The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magic Monk, won the Kahin Prize. His third book, Architects of Buddhist Leisure, was supported by grants from the NEH and Kyoto University. He has two new books forthcoming -- Wayward Distractions: Studies in Thai Buddhism (National University of Singapore and Kyoto University Presses) and Cosmologies and Biologies: Siamese Illuminated Manuscripts (Holberton). He also has published edited volumes on Asian Manuscripts and Material Culture, Buddhist Biographies, Buddhist Art, Buddhist Ritual, Buddhist Literature. He has published over 100 articles and book reviews on a wide variety of subjects in Buddhist Studies, Material Culture, and Religious Studies. He also has forthcoming work on the study of Human Flourishing and the Discipline of Religious Studies. He has received grants from the NEH, Mellon, Rockefeller, Fulbright, PACRIM, Luce, the SSRC, among others. He is the co-editor of the journals: Buddhism Compass, Journal of Lao Studies, and Associate Editor of the Journal of Asian Studies. He has won teaching and advising awards at Harvard U, Ohio U, the University of California, and the Ludwig Prize for Teaching at Penn. He was named one of the top ten most innovative professors in America by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2019 and his work on pedagogical methods in the controversial courses Existential Despair and Living Deliberately have been featured on NPR, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and many other venues. In 2012 he was named a Guggenheim Fellow and in 2014 a fellow of Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies. His forthcoming work includes edited books on Thai Manuscripts, Buddhist Biographies, and Buddhist ritual. He has presented public and scholarly talks in over twenty different countries. He welcomes student and research questions on these subjects and sundry. 

  • Harvard University, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, PHD -- 2003
  • Harvard University, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, MA -- 2001
  • Harvard Divinity School, MTS -- 1998
  • Boston College, BA -- 1993


Research Interests
  • Lao, Thai, Pali and Sanskrit literature,
  • Southeast Asian Buddhism,
  • Japanese Buddhism,
  • ritual studies,
  • manuscript studies, and
  • Southeast Asian history
Research Areas
Buddhist Studies
Southeast Asia