Joy Brennan joined Kenyon’s faculty in 2014. Her work focuses on Buddhist understandings of how people unconsciously construct identities and worlds of experience, producing personal and interpersonal suffering in the process. She also thinks and writes about related topics including Buddhist liberation practices, the convergence of secularism and Buddhist ideas and practices, and the intersection of Buddhist analyses of interpersonal suffering with contemporary accounts drawn from race and gender studies. Brennan teaches introductory courses in Religious Studies, Buddhist studies and East Asian religions, as well as advanced courses in Buddhist studies, including Modern Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.

Areas of Expertise

Buddhist philosophy and psychology, Yogacara, Zen Buddhism


2015 — Doctor of Philosophy from University of Chicago

2007 — Master of Arts from Indiana University

2002 — Bachelor of Arts from Fordham University, summa cum laude

Courses Recently Taught

This course includes brief introductions to four or five major religious traditions while exploring concepts and categories used in the study of religion, such as sacredness, myth, ritual, religious experience and social dimensions of religion. Traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism and Native American traditions may be presented through important texts and practices. This counts toward the 100-level introduction to religious studies course requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every semester.

This course covers the same material as RLST 101 and is open only to first-year students, giving first-years the opportunity to experience the rigorous and intimate seminar setting as they work through the topics and themes of the religious studies department's introductory course. This counts toward the 100-level introduction to religious studies course requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.

Buddhism has been one of the major connective links among the varied cultures of South, Southeast and East Asia for over two millennia, and over the past 100 years it has established a presence throughout the world. This course surveys the ideas and practices of Buddhism with a focus on Buddhist ideas as they developed in South Asia within the first millennium of Buddhist history. Readings include ancient Buddhist texts, contemporary commentaries and scholarship, and a contemporary memoir. This counts toward the religious traditions requirement as Buddhism. No prerequisite. Offered every fall.

This advanced course covers the central ideas and practices of Zen Buddhism in China, where it originated and is called Chan; Japan, where it has influenced and been influenced by many aspects of Japanese culture and from where it was exported to the West; and the United States. Readings include primary texts, secondary studies and a memoir. This counts toward the religious traditions requirement as Buddhism or the religions of distinct geographic regions as East Asia. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.

This course explores key Buddhist people, concepts and movements around the world from the 19th to the 21st centuries. Topics of study may include: how Buddhism in traditionally Buddhist cultures has been shaped by modern political and social forces; how colonialism and its aftermath have influenced Buddhist institutions and practices; the application of Buddhist ideas to theories of race, gender and sexuality; the intersections of Buddhist practices and concepts (particularly meditative practices) with scientific and psychological discourses; and Engaged Buddhism movements. Our focus will be on primary texts, supplemented by secondary readings. This counts as an advanced Buddhism tradition course requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years..

This course is designed as a capstone experience in religious studies for majors in the department. Themes vary according to the instructor. Past themes have included religious autobiography, religion and cinema, and new religious movements. Religious studies minors are encouraged to enroll, provided there is space. This is a required course for all senior majors. No prerequisites. Majors only. Senior Standing. Offered every fall.

Prerequisite: permission of department chair.

Prerequisite: permission of department chair.