Brian Karafin

Brian Karafin

Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religion
Faculty, School of Humanities and Sciences
Faculty, Native American Studies

Specialty:Religion and Society, Buddhism, Religions in America, Religion and Politics
Phone:(607) 274-1585
Office:109 Rothschild Place
Ithaca, NY 14850

My interest in the study of Religion emerged from a youthful fascination with the poetics of the human imagination expressed in myth, literature, and psychological writings as well as the texts of the world religions. As an undergraduate at the University of California at Santa Cruz I pursued an interdisciplinary major in this area, guided by a mentor whose academic location was the department of “History of Consciousness”.  My undergraduate thesis focused on the images of “the primitive” in the writings of twentieth century poets and anthropologists.  As a theoretical tool in this context I became absorbed with the ideas of post-Jungian archetypal psychology, especially the writings of James Hillman.  The pursuit of this psychological dimension of myth, imagination, and religion lead me to graduate studies in Religion at Syracuse University whose department of Religion was then known for its receptivity to the approach of Hillman and related ideas about religion as emerging from the depths of the human mind and not necessarily confined to the traditions usually thought of as “the religions”.

My Phd. Studies at Syracuse familiarized me both with the comparative approach to world religions as well as to the wide range of modern and postmodern critical theories that have provided the interpretive lenses by which the meanings of religion have been grappled with, especially during the two hundred or so years in which the academic discipline of Religious Studies has been constituting itself.  I gradually supplemented my psychological orientation with an awareness of political theories, critiques of ideology, and sociological inquiries into the roles of religion in society and culture.  This growing interest in the politics as well as psychology and poetics of religion lead to an immersion in Marxist and neo-Marxist literature, and I eventually wrote a dissertation on the critical theory of religion from a neo-Marxist perspective, making primary use of the writings of the Frankfurt School of Social Research and the work of Fredric Jameson, a significant American Marxist literary and cultural critic.

 Along with these academic pursuits of the elusive religious phenomenon, I was engaged in a simultaneously academic and personal study of the practices and philosophies of one of the great world religions, Buddhism. As of this writing (2009) I’ve been studying and practicing Buddhism, especially in the Tibetan tradition, for over twenty years, working under various Tibetan lamas (spiritual teachers) and other Buddhist meditation masters. The meditative mind of Buddhism has always struck me as a beneficial foundation both for academic work that values the intellectual but also remembers that there are other facets of the human person, and for teaching Religious Studies, punctuating (if subtly) the discourse of the academy and the classroom with the silences of contemplative awareness.

My teaching and research interests have ranged widely across the domains mentioned above, from the neo-Marxist critical theory of my dissertation through a growing interest in the phenomenon of “socially engaged Buddhism” which puts the contemplative practices of Buddhism and the spiritual philosophies of that tradition into dialogue with the social crises of the contemporary world.  My interest in all of this, focused especially in the teaching-space of the classroom and personal conversations with students, is in attempting to bridge the gaps between inner and outer, psycho-spiritual and political, in such a way that Religious Studies itself becomes a form of deep engagement, with the world and with our selves.


School of Humanities and Sciences  ·  201 Muller Center  ·  Ithaca College  ·  Ithaca, NY 14850  ·  (607) 274-3102  ·  Full Directory Listing