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photo of Michel Mohr

I landed at UH Mānoa in 2007, after a year on the East Coast and two decades in East Asia. My interests have always revolved around Asian religious traditions, their philosophy, and their experiential approaches to religion. This has translated into two Special Issues of the open access journal Religions. The latest one (2020) is titled “Impurity Revisited: Contemplative Practices, Textual Sources, and Visual Representations in Asian Religions.” It follows the organization in 2014 of at Numata Conference at UHM, focused on “Violence, Nonviolence, and Japanese Religions.” Some of its papers were published in another Special Issue of Religions (2018) titled “Engaging Violence: Case Studies from the Japanese Religious Traditions.”  Beginning with an early focus on Rinzai Zen and Chan Buddhism, the scope of my research has expanded in the direction of Chinese Buddhism, through research conducted in Taiwan in 2015 and at Fudan University in 2019. My latest book focuses on the issue of universality, a “hot topic” whose philosophical implications and ethical components will keep me thoroughly engaged during this lifetime.

In 2022–23 I was on sabbatical leave in Taiwan, where I benefitted from a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to conduct research and teach at National Taiwan University (NTU) as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Philosophy.


  • University of Geneva, Switzerland, Ph.D. (Doctorat ès Lettres), 1992
  • University of Geneva, Switzerland, Licence ès Lettres in History of Religions, 1982 (similar to an M.A. in the American academia)

For the latest publications, please refer to

Further information about publications and other academic activities can be found here


Buddhism, Unitarianism, and the Meiji Competition for Universality. Harvard East Asian Monographs 351. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2014.

This book explores a neglected but crucial page of Japanese and American religious and intellectual history. This book focuses on debates sparked by the encounter between Unitarianism and Buddhism in Japan between 1887 and 1922. Its last chapter articulates philosophical ideas related to universality and the importance of reopening the debate that was aborted in the early twentieth century.

Traité sur l’Inépuisable Lampe du Zen: Tōrei (1721–1792) et sa vision de l’éveil (Treatise on the Inexhaustible Lamp of Zen: Tōrei and his Vision of Awakening), 2 vols. Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques vol. XXVIII. Brussels (Bruxelles) 1997: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, in French.

The published version of my Ph.D. dissertation, the first complete translation of a Zen meditation treatise, which highlights the gap between the western interpretations of Zen and the way a major representative of the Rinzai tradition conceived its practice. A revised translation of the same text into English is under way.

Recent Articles and Book Chapters

  • Plowing the Zen Field: Trends since 1989 and Emerging Perspectives,” Religion Compass 6 (2), 2012, pp. 113–124. A critical review of the state of the field in Zen studies.
  • Sengai’s Multifaceted Legacy,” In Zen Master Sengai: 1750–1837, edited by Katharina Epprecht. Zürich: Scheidegger and Spiess, 2014, pp. 16–24. Discussion of one of the most famous calligraphers and Zen masters in the catalogue for the Rietberg Museum exhibition.
  • The Use of Traps and Snares: Shaku Sōen Revisited” in Zen Masters, edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 183–216. First step toward contextualizing the life and work of the teacher who played an instrumental role in introducing Zen to the West.
  • Beyond Awareness: Tōrei Enji’s Understanding of Realization in the Treatise on the Inexhaustible Lamp of Zen, Chapter 6.” In Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, edited by William Edelglass, and Jay L. Garfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 159–170. Contextualized translation and reading of a Zen primary source.
  • Invocation of the Sage: The Ritual to Glorify the Emperor.” In Zen Ritual: Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice, edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 205–222. Attempt to examine a particular Chan and Zen ritual still performed in today’s monasteries.

Courses Regularly Offered

  • REL 203    Understanding Chinese Religions
  • REL 204    Understanding Japanese Religions
  • REL 207    Understanding Buddhism
  • REL 394    On Death and Dying
  • REL 475    Seminar on Buddhism
  • REL 490    Buddhism in Japan
  • REL 605    Healing in the Religious Traditions of Asia and the Pacific

For complete course descriptions see UH Mānoa Course Catalog.

Sakamaki Hall A-315
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