Chris Austin, assistant professor

A day in the life

Chris Austin, assistant professor


Religious Studies is a crucial component of a university education. Religion is fundamental to all human societies, and there is little we can understand about the past and present without it.

Enlightening students about Eastern religions

“Religious Studies is a crucial component in the study of human societies and the humanities,” says Chris Austin. “As a multidisciplinary field, it involves languages and literature, anthropology, art history, philosophy, architecture, and more. It gives you a better understanding of the world and of Canada.”

Among the many courses Dr. Austin teaches is Introduction to Eastern Religions. “It’s an overview of all the principal religious traditions of South and East Asia, from the third millennium BCE to today.”

The rituals, architecture, and art of Eastern religions figure prominently in his lectures: “The traditions we look at are incredibly colourful. Students drink in the slides of Hindu temples and Shinto shrines. These images have a natural vibrancy that always grabs their attention," he explains. "Then, students are drawn in by the novelty of the ideas.”

But Dr. Austin notes it isn’t the images alone that captivate students. “The most engaged lectures are on Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, when we discuss theories of person, self and mind,” he says. “I can turn off the PowerPoint, and in a class of 100 students, the questions just won’t stop flying.”

While pursuing graduate degrees in Religious Studies, Dr. Austin discovered a love of Sanskrit. “Oceans of literature in Sanskrit are completely unknown in North America,” he remarks, adding that he’s conducting research on a little-studied Sanskrit work, the Harivamsha, which tells the life of Krishna, a Hindu god.

Dr. Austin’s most popular course is Buddhism, which has both an immediate appeal to students. But it also presents certain challenges: “At the outset, students are intrigued by Buddhist spirituality, but sometimes they have to change gears in order to understand Buddhism as a social phenomenon.”

“There’s more to it than spiritual freedom and meditation,” Dr. Austin adds. “In fact, most Buddhists don’t meditate, they make devotional offerings and pray. I let the images do some of the work and do my best to bring students to a well-rounded understanding of Buddhism, which is about so much more than meditation.”