Charles D. Orzech

Professor of Religious Studies and Chair, Department of Art

Office: Bixler 167 [ campus map ]
Box 4647

Phone: 207-859-4647
Fax: 207-859-4425
Mailing Address:
4647 Mayflower Hill
Waterville, Maine 04901-8846
Office Hours:
T 1-3 and by appt.
Orzech, Charles D.


Ph.D. Divinity, History of Religions, University of Chicago, 1986
M.A. Divinity, University of Chicago, 1975
B.A. Independent Concentration Religion / East Asian Languages, University of Massachusetts, 1974 cum laude
Yale-China International Asian Studies Program at Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1981-1982
Middlebury College Chinese Summer Language Institute (Elem. & Adv. Mandarin), 1973, 1975

Areas of Expertise

  • Buddhism, Daoism, Chinese religion
  • Esoteric Buddhism / Buddhist Tantras
  • Ritual and liturgy
  • Critical theory in the study of religion
  • Religion, semiotics, and visual culture
  • Religion and Museums
  • Material Religion

Courses Currently Teaching

CourseCourse Title
EA263 ABuddhism across East Asia
RE265 ABuddhism: An Introduction

Professional Information

Research interests:
My primary interests are in cultural contact and interaction and in the fundamental hybridity of human cultural activity. I explore these interests primarily through research on the appropriation and transformation of late Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism in eighth- through thirteenth-century China, through examining images of Buddhism in the modern West, and through studying religious objects in museums.

Before coming to Colby in 2017 I was Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (now professor emeritus) and Reader in Religion, Conflict, and Transition at the University of Glasgow (now Honorary Research Fellow). For more on my teaching, research interests, and publications see my sites at:

The University of Glasgow University of North Carolina Greensboro

Current Research

I am currently working on a monograph titled Tantric Subjects: Ritual and Liturgy in Chinese Esoteric Buddhism. It focuses on the interpretation of 8th through 12th century ritual handbooks. I am also completing two articles. The first is titled “In Comparison a Translation Lies: Museums of World Religions and the Intersemiotic” for the Routledge Handbook of Translation , and another is titled “What is Buddhist Mysticism” for the Routledge Handbook of Comparative Mysticism.


Museums of World Religions

My monograph Museums of World Religions: Displaying the Divine, Shaping Cultures will be published in Spring of 2020 by Bloomsbury Academic Press.
My articles and translations have appeared in History of Religions, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Cahiers d’Extreme-Asie, Journal of the International Buddhist Studies Association, Journal of Chinese Religions, and elsewhere.
I am the author of Politics and Transcendent Wisdom: The Scripture for Humane Kings in the Creation of Chinese Buddhism (Pennsylvania State University Press, Hermeneutics Series, 1998). More recently, I was the general editor of Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia (1200 pages, E. J. Brill).

View publications >

Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia

Politics and Transcendent Wisdom


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