Professor Spotlight: Nine Questions for Kin Cheung


Photo By John Desmond

Kin Cheung is an Assistant Professor of Asian Religions. His undergraduate degree, from New York University, is in philosophy. He expects to receive his Ph.D. in religion at Temple University next month. 

What inspired you to go into your field of study?

I took a high school English course, and we read some Zen Buddhist stories. They were wacky and pretty wild. At the end of college, I took a course on the theory and practice of Zen Buddhism, and it was really a surprise to see philosophical content in Zen. So I started shifting my focus from analytic philosophy to continental and Buddhist philosophy.

What research are you currently working on?

My area is contemporary Buddhism as it’s largely defined. I have two peer-reviewed articles under revision. One is on Buddhism and business, which is about Chinese Buddhists and the stock market. Buddhist institutions are listed on the Chinese stock market, and you can actually buy shares of a Chinese Buddhist mountain tourism company. The other piece I’m revising is on a contemporary Buddhist healer, and I’m looking at the boundaries between religion and medicine.

What do you think is the most recent important development in your field of study?

Contemporary Buddhism requires theory on Buddhist modernism. Now we’re moving towards different theories of Buddhist postmodernism. What that means is looking at the history of Buddhist engagement with modernity in the 19th and 20th century and seeing how it influences Buddhism today.

What job would you have if you couldn’t be a professor, regardless of salary and job outcome?

Hmm. Possibly a food critic because I like eating. But then I thought about the writing. I would rather just eat and not write, so possibly just a food vlogger then. Take pictures, video, and eat.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were in college?

One thing is knowing about the resource of time, and how that resource changes over your life. I would tell my younger self to use the professors’ office hours more. It’s a time for you to really get one-on-one attention with your professor and ask any questions [you may have].

What is your biggest student pet peeve?

Not reading the syllabus. I don’t mind if a student is hungry or has a lapse of attention and asks me what I just said, because I don’t expect students to be robots. What I do expect is that they do their part and read the syllabus.

What was the last Netflix show that you binge-watched or the last good book that you read?

I’ve been watching a lot of films by [South Korean filmmaker] Kim Ki-Duk. He’s not trained as a filmmaker but worked in factories and as a street artist. He has a lot of movies that are purely visual and have little to no dialogue, and they are fantastic. He uses the visual medium of film to express art in a way that you can’t get from a novel.

What is something interesting about you that most of people don’t know?

I was on the bowling team in high school. I’ve played in a beginners league, where I was the anchor for my team and we won the league. My high score is a 257. I bowled six strikes in a row and had a closed game.

Where’d you get your library of books from?

I’ve always loved books. I’ve never sold my books. A major jump in my collection was when the University of Hawaii Press had a big sale. One of my mentors in graduate school told me that as scholars, books are your resources, they’re your tools. There’s something about reading a physical book that my body appreciates, and there’s nothing like holding an actual book.