Jessica (Xiaomin) Zu

Assistant Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures
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
  • Tenure Track Appointments

    • Assistant Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures, USC, 2022-2023
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    Jessica Zu is an intellectual historian and a scholar of Buddhist philosophy. Her research uncovers surprising ways that ancient Buddhist processual philosophy was reinvented by marginalized groups to find purpose, seek justice, and build community. She is currently working on her book manuscript—Just Awakening: The Birth of a Buddhist Social Philosophy in Modern China.

    Her next book-length project—Liberation Buddhology: Processual Philosophies of Buddhist Social Justice Movements—investigates the philosophical innovations that undergirded Buddhist anti-colonial, anti-caste, and pro-democracy movements across Asia. Meanwhile, she is also exploring the viability of another long-term research—Quantum Buddhism: Spirituality for a Scientific World—which studies the simultaneous encounters of Buddhism with quantum physics in China, Japan, India, Thailand, and the US as integral parts of a worldwide revival of process philosophies spurred by Darwinism, quantum physics, and the problem of consciousness.

    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, Liberation Buddhology Across Asia, continues to explore the understudied philosophies undergirding Buddhist social justice movements. 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. (2023). War, Public Letters, and Piety: The Making of a New Pure Land Patriarch in Modern China. History of Religions. Vol. 63 (1), pp. 1–45.
    • 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.


    • Zu, J. X.Quantum Pure Land: Huang Nianzu’s (1913–1992) Scientific Career and his Commentary on a New “Translation” of The Larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra.
    • 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
    • American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship Recipient, Robert Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowship in Buddhist Studies, 2017-2018
  • Conferences Organized

    • co-organizer, Lived Karma: Situating Interbeing in Society, Dartmouth College, 10/14/2022 – 10/16/2022

    Other Service to the Profession

    • New Books Network Host (Buddhist Studies)
      You can find a list of my interviews here:, 2022-CONT