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Kris Anderson

"I studied for one year in Varanasi, India...[later] a semester's fieldwork in Tibet"

I studied for one year in Varanasi, India. Then later I did a semester's fieldwork in Tibet.

How did you become interested in AMES/Asian Studies?

I did not find out about the major until I was already studying abroad in India. It seemed closer to my interests what I'd been majoring in before.

How did your interest develop while at Northwestern?

I studied Hindi during my first couple of years and then studied abroad in India for a year. When I came back I started Chinese and Tibetan art. 

What were your favorite courses and professors and why? 

Two courses stand out, a graduate seminar on Chinese art and my senior thesis. My honors thesis explored the ways contemporary artists in Lhasa situate themselves and present their work as a mediation on traditional and modern Tibetan culture. It looked at the strategies artists use to create and promote their art in specific cultural and political contexts, and the sources of inspiration that they draw on. It found that these strategies involve not only choices in artistic expression, but also in presentation and audience selection.

If you studied abroad, where did you go? How did the experience affect you?

I studied for one year in Varanasi, India. Then later I did a semester's fieldwork in Tibet.

How has your AMES/ASP coursework affected your career and/or your life in general?

It taught me a lot. Although my research interests have shifted considerably (I worked on contemporary art then, now I work on medieval ritual texts in Sanskrit and Tibetan), the work I did in AMES got me started.

What are you currently doing as far as employment? Further education, etc.?

I am currently a fifth year PhD student at UC Berkeley, in the Group in Buddhist Studies. My dissertation deals with the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana tantra, a Buddhist text from the eighth century that has played an important role in the development of a number of Buddhist funerary traditions across Asia. After examining early ritual texts preserved at Dunhuang, it focuses on the tantra itself, which exists in Sanskrit and two Tibetan translations. Finally, it examines the contemporary uses of the text in the Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, where it continues to exert an important influence.

What might you say to an undergrad regarding the value of Asian Studies courses?

I think it's difficult to generalize, given the breadth of the category "Asian Studies courses." A class on anthropology in Japan is going to cover dramatically different material than one on Indian epic poetry. Perhaps a shared value might be that, in learning how to approach the study of cultures and/or historical eras different than our own, we learn to be more aware of our own cultural and historical contexts and constructs.

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