Ryan Overbey

Job title: 
2013-2015 Shinjo Ito Postdoctoral Fellow in Buddhist Studies

Ryan Overbey studies the intellectual and ritual history of Buddhism, with particular focus on early medieval Buddhist spells and ritual manuals. He studied at Brown University (AB in Classics & Sanskrit and Religious Studies, 2001) and at Harvard University (PhD in the Study of Religion, 2010). He worked as an academic researcher for Prof. Dr. Lothar Ledderose’s project on Stone Sūtras at the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, and also served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the College of the Holy Cross. His dissertation explored the ideological and ritual construction of the “preacher of the dharma” (dharmabhāṇaka) in the Great Lamp of the Dharma Dhāraṇī Scripture, a massive text extant only in a single sixth-century Chinese translation. In addition to illuminating many details of Buddhist rhetoric and homiletics, the Great Lamp shows how seemingly arcane Buddhist theories of ritual and spellcraft could be brought down to earth and made relevant for the practical concerns of building Buddhist preachers and their communities. During his time at Berkeley, Ryan worked on a monographic study of Buddhist preachers in the early medieval period, drawing on more data about Buddhist pedagogy from Chinese imperial histories and Buddhist hagiography, as well as from documents about preachers found in the Dunhuang archives. Ryan also pursued research on Buddhist spells and ritual manuals of the early centuries CE, such as the Great Peahen Queen of Spells and the Consecration Sūtra. He is now Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Skidmore College.