College of Liberal Arts

COLA Fellow Spotlight: Benjamin Cox

Wed, Dec 18, 2013
Photo Credit: Francis Roman
Photo Credit: Francis Roman

Name: Benjamin Cox

Current: Religious Studies, supervised by John Traphagan

Previous: BA in Religious Studies, Dartmouth College, Masters of Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School, Masters in Regional Studies East Asia, Harvard

Research Topic: Contemporary Japanese Religion—In Japan, about 70% of the country identifies as Buddhist, 90% as Shinto, and about 80% as being not religious. This is misleading, as well as mathematically impossible: in reality most people are involved in "Japanese religion" but don't think of that involvement as being 'religious' in the way we would use the word. My current research investigates the tacit, unarticulated process by which Japanese children acquire their ideas about the supernatural. I hope this will provide insight into how religion propagates from generation to generation not only in cultures where explicit religious education is absent, but, I think, in our own as well.

Why? I first got into religious studies after happening across Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth series he did with Bill Moyers back in the '80s for PBS in a secondhand bookstore. That got me thinking about world religions more generally, and made me realize that there were people out there who studied them for a living.

Mentors: My first mentor in the field of Religious Studies was Professor Susan Ackerman of Dartmouth College; she taught the first RS course I ever took—intro to the Hebrew Bible—and I declared a major by the end of the semester. We worked very closely over the next three years. She groomed me to follow in her footsteps as a Bible scholar, and she still chides me for switching to Japanese Studies. Since coming to Texas, Professor Traphagan has been keeping my feet to the fire.

Why UT? UT's religious studies program was one of a kind. Everywhere else I might have applied—Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Princeton—their religious studies programs had grown out of divinity schools. As a social scientist studying religion as a facet of human culture, UT is a better fit. The chance to get in on the ground floor of an up and coming department without any of the institutional or intellectual baggage was more than I could pass up. The faculty has been everything I could have hoped for—engaged, curious, supportive, and collegial—and I am very pleased with my choice.

Hobbies? I'm kind of a nut about domestic space, so if I can spend my free time nesting, I'm usually pretty happy. I did a set of built-in bookshelves from scratch this year that I'm quite pleased with. I justified the time by telling myself I needed somewhere to put all the books I'm reading for my qualifying exams!

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