Jessica (Xiaomin) Zu

Assistant Professor of Religion
Jessica (Xiaomin) Zu
Pronouns She / Her / Hers Email

Research & Practice Areas

Buddhist philosophy, Yogacara (the school of consciousness-only) and social sciences, intellectual history of modern China, Buddhism and social Darwinism


  • Ph.D. Religion, Princeton University, 2020
  • Ph.D. Physics, The Pennsylvania State University, 2003
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    Jessica Zu is an intellectual historian and a scholar of Buddhist studies. Her research uncovers unknown episodes and surprising ways that ancient Buddhist spiritual inclusiveness was transformed into theories and guidelines for building a just society. She is currently working on her book manuscript, “Dharma, Darwin, Democracy: Buddhist Social Philosophy in Modern China.”
    Additionally, she works alongside Dr. Susanne Kerekes (Trinity College, Hartford Connecticut) on a 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.

    Research Keywords

    Buddhism, Chinese religions, Buddhist social consciousness, global Buddhism, engaged Buddhism, Buddhism of the 99%, process social philosophy, intellectual history, religion and science

    Detailed Statement of Research Interests

    I study the intellectual history of Buddhism and the socio-religious change in modern Asia from the overlooked perspectives of religious innovators. My first book project, Dharma, Darwinism, Democracy: Buddhist Social Philosophy in Modern China, uncovers a fascinating story of how Chinese intellectuals reinvented ancient Buddhist spiritual exercises as a collective quest for social justice, equality, and democracy. It is the first historical and archival study of the Chinese Buddhist encounter with social Darwinism and social sciences. One chapter of the book manuscript is published as a peer-reviewed journal article, "A Spiritual Evolutionism: Lü Cheng, Aesthetic Revolution, and the Rise of a Buddhism-inflected Social Ontology in Modern China," in Journal of Global Buddhism


    My second book-length study, Tagore’s Buddhological Project, continues to explore the understudied history of Buddhist social consciousness, but this time in an unexpected locale—West Bengal, India. Joining the recent scholarly effort to enrich the analytic toolkit for China-India comparison, this project seeks to go beyond the typecast images of "spiritual India" and "rational China" by foregrounding diverse formations of universal religion in the cultural realm. In so doing, this study decenters the colonial gaze by showcasing the vibrant cultural productions and meaning-making circulated between the margins of the colonial empire. A pilot study has been published as a peer-reviewed journal article, "


    Three Plays and a Shared Socio-Spiritual Horizon in the Modern Buddhist Revivals in India and China," as part of a special issue "China-India Comparisons" in International Journal of Asian Studies.



    In addition to my own research, I am also working with 


    Dr. Susanne Ryuyin Kerekes at Skidmore College on a much broader collaborative project — "Buddhism of the 99%".

    Buddhism of the 99% is motivated by three themes:

    1.     "Buddhism of the people"

    2.     "Buddhism by the people," and

    3.     "Buddhism for the people"





    o   "Buddhism of the people" focuses on the Buddhism(s) that are governed by the people themselves, making sa?gha and a Buddhist community that is representative and inclusive. This includes the Dalit Buddhist movement led by B. R. Ambedkar in 1950s India, Black Dharma movements, and Asian American Buddhists.



    o   "Buddhism by the people" showcases the Buddhism(s) practiced by the 99% (or rather majority, mainly Asian) Buddhists around the world, emphasizing ritual, materiality, and spirituality. For example, Susanne Kerekes’ forthcoming work on Material Buddhists.

    o   "Buddhist for the people" highlights Buddhism(s) that aim to make life better for the 99%. Such movements are led by the overlooked figures of Buddhist revolutionaries, such as Buddhist socialists who contributed to the rise of engaged Buddhism in the 1960s. This includes socially engaged Buddhism, Buddhist liberation theology, and Buddhist economics. For example, Jessica Zu’s forthcoming work on Liberation Buddhology.

    I am also passionate about introducing cutting-edge research in Buddhist studies to a broader audience. You can find a list of book reviews commissioned by me here. You can find a list of intervews on New Books Network conducted by me here

  • Essay

    • Zu, J. X. (2019). Self-driving Cars and an Age-old Buddhist Moral Dilemma. BuddhistDoorGlobal. Click here to read

    Journal Article

    • Zu, J. X. (2021). Three Plays and a Shared Socio-Spiritual Horizon in the Modern Buddhist Revivals in India and China. International Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 2021, pp. 1–24. Click here to read
    • Zu, J. X. (2021). A Spiritual Evolutionism: Lü Cheng, Aesthetic Revolution, and the Rise of a Buddhism-Inflected Social Ontology in Modern China. Journal of Global Buddhism. Vol. 22 (1), pp. 49–75. Click here to read
    • Zu, J. X. (2019). Ouyang Jingwu’s Must-Read Buddhist Classics for Laity: Body Politics and Gendered Soteriology. Journal of Chinese Religions. Vol. 47 (1), pp. 61–86.
    • Public Talk, Karma, Science, and a Just Society: Yogacara Causal Theory as Social Philosophy, 2021-2022
    • Public Talk, Karma and Structural (In)Justice: Buddhist Social Philosophy in Modern Asia,, 05/09/2023-05/10/2023
    • New Books Network Host, Check out my interviews here:, 12/12/2022
    • Notre Dame IAS Faculty Fellowship: The Long Run, 2023-2024
    • Robert Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowship in Buddhist Studies, 2017-2018