Susanne Kerekes

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Trinity CollegePhD, 2018


Susanne Kerekes specializes in Buddhism and contemporary religious practice in Thailand, especially popular rituals involving amulets, magic, and spirits. Among her research interests include Buddhist art and architecture (Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, in particular), 19th-century Thai manuscripts, Buddhist economics, Spiritual But Not Religious, and prosperity spirituality such as Pranic Healing. She has conducted participant-observer ethnographic research in Bangkok, Thailand for over a decade. Theoretically, her work is informed by material religion and relationality philosophies.

Titled Material Buddhists: Fashioning the Spiritual Economy of Thailand, Kerekes’s working book project overturns orientalist perspectives on Theravada Buddhism. It calls for a compelling suggestion to view Theravada Buddhists not merely as “orthodox”, “traditional”, “Pali-canon centered”, “textual”, or “meditation” minded practitioners, but rather as, what Kerekes dubs, material Buddhists. Her book introduces the entangled, inseparable material and spiritual economy in which Theravada Buddhists are engaged on a daily basis. Material Buddhists leads readers on an adventurous encounter showcasing how Thai Buddhist practice is largely influenced by relationships among practitioners, the material world (e.g., Buddhist statues, amulets, ritual offerings), and all the spirits associated with saksit (a Thai concept loosely translated as "sacred", or that which is worthy of reverence).  
Additionally, she works alongside Dr. Jessica Zu (USC Dornsife) on a broader collaborative project they call, "Buddhism of the 99%". The project is motivated by three themes: Buddhism of the people, by the people, and for the people.  

For the American Academy of Religion (AAR), Kerekes is a co-chair for the Five-Year Seminar (2023-2027), "Collective Karma and Karmic Collectives: Conversations Without Borders", and a committee member of the Religion in Southeast Asia Unit. For the University of Pennsylvania’s Lauder Institute (Wharton School of Business, and School of Arts & Sciences), Kerekes serves as a faculty leader for the Lauder Intercultural Venture (LIV) program in Thailand. The cohort of dual-MBA-and-MA-degree students enrolled in her Thailand LIV explore various themes on Buddhism, for example business and material culture. Students also experience an intensive 24-hour meditation retreat.  

  • PhD, University of Pennsylvania
  • MA, Mahidol University
  • BA, DePauw University
Research Areas
Buddhist Studies, Religion & Material Culture.
Courses Taught

Buddhist Literature
Buddhist Material Culture
Buddhist Economics
Gender and Sexuality in Buddhism
Buddhism and Violence


Steering Committee Member, Religion in Southeast Asia Unit, American Academy of Religion (2019-2024)