Marcus Evans teaches courses on Asian religions at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, exploring new perspectives and incorporating different voices that help students access and interpret old texts. His teaching integrates and combines classical Buddhist works and contrasts and compares these with the works of modern hip hop artists, helping students to see ways that art, literature, and religion evolve and respond in interrelated ways. In this episode, Sarah Richardson asks him about his research and how he brings fresh voices and perspectives into conversation, taking these as strategies for greater student inclusion and antiracist teaching in the University.


"The Bhagavad Gita means the Song of the Lord. These brothers, way back in the ancient days, they were rhyming. They were kicking raps.” Marcus Evans 

“I wanted them to see if they can pick up on this notion of change in itself and how change and impermanence support a Buddhist concept, because that was something that was very subtle in the lyrics.” Marcus Evans

“I decided to incorporate black American voices into this [course]. I was thinking about it in a way of decentering whiteness and looking at the narrative of transmission of Asian texts to North America by decentering the white gaze.” Marcus Evans

"Which voices can I bring in to challenge the standard way that we do it? This is effective in itself, even in just the people that we attract to the course.” Marcus Evans

“You know, when I taught my course the Great Books of Asian Religions, it was so fascinating because when I looked into the audience it was the first time that I saw a lot of black in the audience, I had never really seen that in a religious studies course.” Marcus Evans

Music References


Wu-Tang Clan

Nicki Minaj 

T.I., “I Believe”

Killer Mike 


Tina Turner

Dead Prez, “Learning, Growing, Changing”, The Workout, 2011 

Dead Prez, Let’s Get Free, 2000 

Dead Prez, Information Age, 2013 

Links to articles and books

Marcus Evans, PhD Candidate at McMaster University

James Robson. “Daoism.” In Norton Anthology of World Religions, edited by James Miles. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015. 

Malory Nye. Religion: The Basics. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008.

KRS-One. Ruminations: A Philosophical Outlook on Urban Hip-Hop. New York, NY: Welcome Rain Publishers, 2003. 

KRS One. The Gospel of Hip Hop: First Instrument. Brooklyn, NY: PowerHouse Books, 2009.

Ellie Hisama. “‘We’re All Asian Really’: Hip Hop’s Afro-Asian Crossings.” In Critical Minded: New Approaches to Hip Hop Studies, edited by Ellie Hisama and Evan Rapport, 1–21. Brooklyn, NY: Institute for Studies in American Music, 2005.

Bill V. Mullen. Afro-Orientalism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. 

Deborah Elizabeth Whaley. “Black Bodies/Yellow Masks: The Orientalist Aesthetic in Hip-hop and Black Visual Culture.” In Afro-Asian Encounters, edited by Heike Raphael-Hernandez and Shannon Steen, pp. 188–203. New York, NY, New York University Press, 2006. 

Christopher M. Driscoll and Monica R. Miller. Method as Identity: Manufacturing Distance in the Academic Study of Religion. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019.

Adeana McNicholl. “Being Buddha, Staying Woke: Racial Formation in Black Buddhist Writing.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 86, no. 4 (December 2018): 883–911. 

Ann Gleig



Rima Vesely-Flad teaches at Warren Wilson College exploring the intersections of Buddhism, race, and gender. Her teaching is deeply entwined with her current research on Buddhist teachers of African descent in the United states, particularly in the Vipassana tradition.

Buddhism as it was adopted in North America has reflected the racism and discriminatory ideologies of this society. Rima researches how Black Buddhist teachers are doing things differently—and how Buddhist institutions in North America and contemporary Buddhist teachings are changing as a result. As more Black teachers are coming into positions of power in the US, authoring books, providing teachings, they are making new articulations of the dharma and carving spaces of liberation from dominant social messages.

Black Buddhist teachers, many of whom also self-identify as queer, show how dharma can be a great vehicle for recognizing that historical harm was done and continues to be done, and to working with that recognition. They disrupt the status quo, bringing about new awareness based on embodied experience, and bringing attention to internalized racism and inter-generational trauma.

With the tools that Buddhism provides to address, name, and be in discomfort, these teachers are making a different dharma possible: a space of resistance and healing to the pervasive ideologies of white supremacy. Teaching and reading this material with students, both white and marginalized, and gender non-conforming, Rima provides expansive opportunities for all to recognize the work that remains.


“Let’s take not only Black people who are marginalized in society and value their bodies and value their spirits and value their persons, but let’s also take the most marginalized folks within Black communities and privilege their voices and their experiences so that in this movement not only do we have many, many self-identified queer leaders, but we also have an emphasis on transgender persons and the disproportionate violence especially against Black transgender women.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“Spirit Rock just graduated a teacher group that was 90% people of colour. That’s unprecedented!” Rima Vesely-Flad

“IMS is about to graduate a teacher group that is 70% people of colour.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“When I did the research for my book, which pertains only to people of African descent both who are recognized teachers but also who are long-time practitioners, it turns out that almost 63% self-identify as queer. That’s a very big deal.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“In that privileging of the body, these teachers are saying we work with the body, the body is our vehicle towards liberation and our social experiences and how we’re constructed needs to get named as much as they need to be transcended. So that there is within these spaces a recognizing of how racism is internalized, the overt violence that gets enacted, the level of fear with which we move in our broader society, all of that gets named and put out there.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“The practice of liberation is not simply to achieve these different states of mind, but it’s also to say that liberation means a kind of transcending of those dominant, damaging messages that we have internalized so that we are not always in reaction to white supremacy.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“One of the reasons I think these teachings from these Black teachers are so profound is that you can tell that they have managed to live in a different way. They are not always moving against white supremacy. They are not changing their patterns, not changing their bodies, not always in reaction to the degradation that has been part of the waters we all swim in.” Rima Vesely-Flad

 “Predominantly white Buddhist sanghas and retreat structures and governing structures in the United States have not taken seriously that fact that racism can flourish in those communities and that that needs to be named and confronted and worked with through dharma practice.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“Leadership matters – who is on the podium or on the platform or holding the mic – those sets of voices matter a lot in terms of trying to shift a culture, to simply invite more people in but not shift the power structure is really not enough.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“In the concept of decolonization, we are not talking about reclaiming land.  We are talking about reclaiming rituals and we are talking about implementing new rituals and there is a lot to be said for symbolic power.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“These are more liberal communities – politically liberal communities – and yet not dissimilar to having a group of white students in my classroom who self-silence around race and racism.” Rima Vesely-Flad

“That is precisely where white people need to do some work and to really work with that fear, that self-silencing, and that inhibition, and again I think the dharma is such a great place to start with that because you have tools to sit with discomfort.” Rima Vesely-Flad

Links and References

Thich Nhat Hanh and rigorous sitting

Theravada Buddhism or Insight Meditation or “vipassana movement” from South East Asia

Names of newly trained Black Buddhist teachers:

Rima Vesely-Flad, Racial Purity and Dangerous Bodies: Moral Pollution, Black Lives and the Struggle for Justice, 2017

  • Examines the grassroots protest work in Ferguson and beyond to dismantle systems of oppression and disproportionate policing and mass incarceration
  • Uses and critiques liberation theology

Healing Justice

Insight Meditation Society

Spirit Rock

Kevin Manders and Elizabeth Marston, Transcending: Trans Buddhist Voices, 2019

Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to mending Our Hearts and Bodies, 2017

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, The Way of Tenderness: Awakening through Race, Sexuality, and Gender, 2015

Lama Rod Owens, Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger, 2020

Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, 2016

Rema Vesely-Flad, Black Buddhists and the Black Radical Tradition The Practice of Stillness in the Movement for Liberation, 2021 (forthcoming from NYU Press)

Rema Vesely-Flad, “Black Buddhists and the Body New Approaches to Socially Engaged Buddhism,” Religions, 2017

“Inside Out” prison teaching program at Warren-Wilson College

Jan Willis, Dreaming Me: One Woman’s Spiritual Journey, 2008

angel Kyodo Williams, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace, 2002

Sebene Selassie, You Belong: A Call for Connection, 2021 (Forthcoming)

Names of Black feminist writers and Black writers on Dharma

  • bell hooks
  • Audre Lorde
  • James Baldwin



How do students learn and what do they value six months after a course? What do students get from embodied and experiential learning? In this episode, Sarah interviews five students who all took the same course about interdependence at the University of Toronto in the Fall of 2019. In these interviews, conducted well after the course and when the world has been plunged into a global pandemic, students reflect on how the course changed them and their ways of understanding themselves and their worlds. Hear from students about just how transformational these embodied practices were, and how this kind of learning that intentionally used class time to work with putting things into a physical practice changed their relationship to a core Buddhist studies concept-- interdependence-- and what they are doing with that six months on. Listen and find inspiration to try new things in your classes too!



 “I wasn't just learning about interdependence, but I was learning also about myself.” Xinran Huang

“I had an incredible sense of gratitude and awe at what my body was and what it gives me. It was pretty powerful. Sam Keravica

“I found out that memory isn't real, it's practiced.” Sally Andrews

“I'm struggling to articulate the kind of bodily realization of how we are intimately connected with each other, even beyond thoughts.” Richard Wu

“We have to open our circle of concern for this collective self that we're trying to protect.” Aaron Marshall 


Links and References 

Kriti Sharma, Interdependence, Biology and Beyond

Alexis Shotwell, Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times

Frances Garrett’s description of the course



Gathering data about student expectations and experiences with new technology is essential to developing effective courses to be delivered online during the pandemic. In this interview we spoke with Daigengna Duoer, who taught an online course on Zen Buddhism at UC Santa Barbara this past summer. Daigengna repeatedly surveyed her students to evaluate their preferences and comfort with the format and content of the course. In this episode, we hear about some creative and specific ways she created an engaging asynchronous learning experience in a course that was taught entirely remotely. Some key take-aways? One-on-one zoom meetings to develop paper topics, a preference for asynchronous, but also short, lectures, and being sure to build a course that allows students to focus on topics of real interest to them. 


"74% of my students actually preferred asynchronous. I was really shocked. 0% preferred 100% synchronous formats." Daigengna Duoer

"Teaching in covid-19 really made me become more aware about how students learn, how they want to learn, what they want to learn, especially when it comes to Buddhism and also Zen, things like this, so they are really technology-oriented, but they're also very flexible, I think, and they really want relevant information and material and also arguments for their immediate concerns." Daigengna Duoer

"One of the advantages we have as instructors of humanities courses where we can definitely teach this exciting content, but we can also teach, useful transferable skills through this content to students." Daigengna Duoer

Links and References  

Daigengna Duoer, UC Santa Barbara, Department of Religious Studies 

Daigengna’s Personal Website 

Panopto video recording and sharing software

Ronald Purser, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality

Hwansoo Kim, "The Adventures of a Japanese Monk in Colonial Korea: Sōma Shōei's Zen Training with Korean Masters"

Joshua Irizarry, "Putting a Price on Zen: The Business of Redefining Religion for Global Consumption"

Peter Romaskiewicz, Mind Lab exercises 


PRE-Course Survey

POST-Course Survey


Dr. Kerry Lucinda Brown is a professor of art history at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah Georgia and has a research focus on the religious arts of the Newar community of Nepal. In this episode we speak with Kerry about how she teaches Asian and Buddhist art topics in her context: that is, to students in a design college for whom the materials may be new and distant. Teaching Asian and Buddhist arts and their long and complex histories can be complicated, but Kerry finds tangible ways to make the experience of her courses unforgettable for students. From visiting local religious sites, to scheduling collaborative review sessions with her students after their final exam, Kerry shares the breadth and depth of Asian religious art, and her infectious enthusiasm for a form  of teaching that is like sports coaching with her students. Fail! Practice! Repeat!


"Images are not just powerful as things. They have presence and aliveness." Kerry Brown

"Once I say that they are allowed to fail and they should fail, it’s the easiest way to learn, then  they take a deep breath and are a little easier on themselves." Kerry Brown

"There’s all different kinds of Buddhisms, and I think once they get that they realize that it’s easier to understand the different variations, there’s not just one Buddhism." Kerry Brown

Links and References 

Kerry’s profile page at SCAD 

Kerry Lucinda Brown on LinkedIn 

Sanjay Patel, Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow 

Carlelton-Antioch Buddhist Studies Program 


Dr. Luther Obrock from the University of Toronto shares about teaching an undergraduate course on bodies and embodiment in early Indian Buddhist texts. He wants to use his course, a seminar, to help students understand how theories are not just modern constructions, but instead can also emerge from ancient religious texts. He leads his students through ways to mine data and information about how the writers of ancient Indian texts, themselves embodied, understood and spoke about their (gendered) bodies. From analyzing the representation of the "hyper-masculine" Buddha’s body, or the status of the female body as attested in literature by or about nuns, a theory, or an "imaginary relationship to a real problem" of the body, can emerge. 


"Let’s imagine these texts as coming from embodied people." Luther Obrock 

"We can use the Buddhist texts as theory to think about our own positionality." Luther Obrock

Links and References 

Dr. Luther Obrock


John Powers, A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Boyd in Indian Buddhism

Charles Hallisey, Therigatha: Selected Poems of the First Buddhist Women

I.B. (Isaline Blew) Horner –


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