I currently supervise or co-supervise several loose categories of what SSHRC refers to as “highly qualified personnel” (HQP)—i.e., graduate students and postdocs—with some overlap between the categories:

1) Those interested in exploring Warring States Chinese thought (often from an embodied cognition or empirically-informed standpoint).

This is one of my areas of core expertise, and students working in this area will generally apply to the Asian Studies or Philosophy Departments (where I am an Associate Member), identifying me as their primary or co-advisor.

Please click here for more information on studying Warring States Chinese thought at UBC.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to my grant administration responsibilities I will not be teaching graduate seminars for the next few years, and therefore will be radically curtailing my acceptance of new graduate students.]

2) Those interested in the cognitive science of religion.

This is also one of my areas of core expertise. Unfortunately, UBC currently lacks a freestanding Religious Studies department (which was eliminated decades ago and merged into Classical and Near Eastern Studies, forming the current CNERS Department), which means that students interested in the cognitive science of religion but without sinological or classical Near Eastern expertise or interest would have to apply through the Department of Psychology, where I am an Associate Member and where there are faculty members (Ara Norenzayan, Joseph Henrich) and graduate students for whom the cognitive science of religion is a core interest. Within the next year or two we are hoping to have a new Program in Religious Studies up and running, offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees. I also have a postdoc position in Historical Textual studies under my supervision, the post is filled for 2013-2014, but check back to the CERC site for updates or potential new positions.

3) Those interested in exploring subjects unrelated to early China, but employing methods in which I have some expertise, such as cognitive linguistics, embodied cognition, or corpus surveys.

These are primarily Ph.D. students in unrelated discipline departments (English, Environmental Studies, Education) who wish to pursue a “vertically integrated” approach to their topics of research, and for whom I serve as an outside committee member and methodological advisor.

Current grad students

Clayton Ashton (Ph.D. candidate). Clayton received his B.A. from the University of Saskatchewan in Linguistics with a minor in Religious Studies, and his MA from UBC Asian Studies. His main area of research is Warring States Chinese thought, with a particular interest in recently discovered archeological texts. His MA Thesis concerned a set of so-called “Confucian” texts from the Guodian find.

Wayne Kreger (Ph.D. candidate). Wayne earned his B.A. from the University of Saskatchewan Religious Studies with a minor in History and his M.A. from UBC Asian Studies. His studies focused on Chinese religion in general and Chinese Buddhism in particular. He is most interested in the formative period of Chan Buddhism and its relationship with classical Chinese thought.

Casey Collins (Ph.D. candidate). Casey received a B.A. from UBC in Asian Studies. Currently he is studying theories and methodologies of religious studies, and he is particularly interested in theories of cultural evolution and phenomenology of religion. Casey’s research focuses on the modern Japanese new religious movement Shinnyo-en, religious normativity, authority, and prosocial behaviour.

Robin Curtis (M.A. Student). Robin received his B.A. From Middlebury College in Psychology with a minor in Chinese. His is currently seeking connections between ancient Chinese philosophy and the modern cognitive science of religion. His research examines the development of ren 仁 (Goodness or benevolence) as a Confucian ideal, as well as the cultural evolution of religion as a source of prosocial human behavior.

All of my graduate students are currently supported by competitive fellowships from SSHRC or other funding agencies, and former MA students have gone on to Ph.D. programs at Harvard and McGill.


Jessica McCutcheon received her Ph.D. in Classics from Yale University in 2012 and taught at Amherst College for two years before joining the CERC project in 2014.  Her research focuses on how cognition and emotion affect narrative flow in Latin literature and on how the way people think about their gods can help to elucidate the intersection of cult and myth in Roman religion.  As one of the Regional Editors for the Ancient Mediterranean, Jessica is also working on developing the Database of Religious History.

Benjamin Purzycki earned his Ph.D. in 2012 at the University of Connecticut and has since been a research fellow at UBC’s Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture. Presently, most of his attention is devoted to understanding the interactions between our evolved cognitive mechanisms, the socioecological contexts in which they operate, how these interactions inform religious traditions, and when religious systems function adaptively. He conducts fieldwork in the Tyva Republic to address these concerns.  Purzycki has published in a variety of places including Cognition, Cognitive Science, Current Anthropology, and Religion, Brain and Behavior.

Robban Toleno graduated from UBC in 2015 with a Ph.D. in Asian Studies, specializing in premodern Chinese social history and writing on food and nourishment in premodern Chinese Buddhism. His research aims to deepen our understanding of how religious attitudes influence patterns of food use in China. His recent projects include an investigation of food in a tenth-century Chinese Buddhist encyclopedia and a study of longevity patterns in Chinese history. He currently serves as Managing Editor of the Database of Religious History (DRH). 

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