Religious Studies Department

Dr. William M. Gorvine


Chair, Department of Religious Studies

Associate Professor of Religious Studies
(501) 450-3820

M.A., Ph.D., History of Religions, University of Virginia
B.A., Asian Studies, Connecticut College

Teaching and Research Interests:

  • Tibetan and Himalayan Religion
  • Buddhist Studies
  • Hinduism and Religion in South Asia
  • Shamanism and Indigenous Religions
  • Theory and Method in the Study of Religion
  • Religious Biography and Historiography
  • Tibetan Language
  • Contemplative Pedagogy

Personal Statement:

As a specialist in the religions of Asia, I introduce students to religious ideas, expressions and communities that are often unfamiliar, but which comprise some of the most important traditions shaping our world today. In the process, we work to develop a mature understanding of others that is vital to our increasingly global society, while simultaneously gaining perspective upon our own values and vantage points. In religious studies, this necessarily raises questions about the category of “religion” itself, and about how particular approaches or assumptions affect what one observes, or chooses to designate, as “religious.” In my teaching, I enjoy thinking about broad issues like these, and my training leads me to explore the varied terrain of religious studies by utilizing a range of disciplinary perspectives, from the historical and philosophical to the literary and anthropological. I also find it meaningful to facilitate direct encounters with the peoples and cultures of Asia, such as by leading faculty-sponsored Odyssey travel to culturally Tibetan areas of northern India, and by hosting members of different religious communities to offer presentations and special events on campus. Over the past several years, I have also been exploring the use of first-person contemplative pedagogies in my classes, both to allow students more enriching encounters with course content and also as a way to foster empathy and self-reflection. 

My scholarly work reflects my interdisciplinary interests along with my training in the History of Religions. My research largely focuses on the minority Bön religious tradition in Tibet, especially as it developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and has been supported both by a Fulbright-Hays fellowship and the contributions of traditional Tibetan scholars and teachers in India. My recent book presents a study and translation of the life of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen (1859-1934), one of the most influential figures in contemporary Bön. This project explores the blurring of boundaries between history and hagiography in Tibetan life-writing, and offers insights into the unique social environment of the disciple-biographer and his audience. I have also been professionally active in supporting interdisciplinary work in Asian studies, both at Hendrix and though service on the board of directors of ASIANetwork (, a consortium of colleges promoting the study of Asia within the framework of liberal arts education

Projects and Publications:

Envisioning a Tibetan Luminary: The Life of a Modern Bönpo Saint. (Oxford University Press, 2018).