School of Religion

We are so thrilled to introduce our new Flora Jane Baker Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Ryan Anningson. To welcome Dr. Anningson to the department and get to know more about him we completed a virtual interview. Dr. Anningson will also be teaching a new topics course this spring called "Religion, Race Creation, and Colonialism" so be on the lookout for the course description coming soon! 

What was your background before you came to Queen’s?

            I received my PhD from Wilfrid Laurier University in 2017, and began working as a Postdoctoral researcher with my supervisor, Dr. Jason Neelis, on the Upper Indus Petroglyphs and Rock Art of Northern Pakistan project funded by SSHRC. This project uses digital technologies in cultural heritage preservation to create 3D models, and other visualization methods, to preserve the rock art of northern Pakistan. The project is also in partnership with Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Pakistan and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Over the last few years, I have been fortunate enough to go on multiple field work expeditions to Pakistan in order to preserve ancient rock art in the area. The rock art in the Khybher-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces of Northern Pakistan is currently under threat due to the construction of a hydro-electric dam, as well as other environmental factors. I was part of an international team of researchers that would travel to Pakistan and use DSLR cameras, LiDar Laser scanning, Photogrammetry, Reflectance Transformation Imaging, and other techniques to preserve the cultural heritage of the area. The rock art in the area is important for human history more broadly, because it contains many ancient languages, which shows that these regions served as trading hubs between the Persia, China, and South Asia, dating back approximately 2000 years.

What are your current research interests and goals for the upcoming year?

            My first book will be coming out in about a year and a half. Its called Theories of the Self, Race, and Essentialization in Buddhism: The United States and the Asian “other,” 1899-1957, and it is being published in the Critical Buddhism Series for Routledge. My research focuses on Buddhist uses of race and race sciences to explain their doctrines, and therefore create religious space, in the United States from the progressive era and eugenics craze, through the Great Depression, and even during World War II. During this time, American culture was obsessed with race; in the West Chinese and Japanese immigrants were barred from citizenship, they faced violence, and laws segregated them from certain jobs and areas of town. In the South and beyond, Black Americans faced terrorism, segregation, and other forms of dehumanization. Meanwhile, eugenics laws in the United States created immigration laws based on skull shape and other factors, as well as involuntary sterilization bills being adopted in 30 states. Buddhist writers attempting to explain the religion for American audiences used race sciences and eugenics, including the Aryan myth, to help explain their religion because it was such a large part of the cultural discussion at the time, which ultimately helped Buddhism become as popular as it is today. It is very jarring to see Buddhist writers discussing Aryanism and racial superiority, but this discussion was largely taking place with the influences of colonialism and racism contributing to the discussion.

            For my current research, I have found another interesting story involving Buddhist discussions of race and race superiority, but this time involving international spies and the CIA! In the 1930s, Buddhists were actually sent as spies to certain marginalized communities in an attempt to convert those communities. Buddhist spies did not successfully convert communities en masse, but they did influence a religious resurgence in those areas; based on the success of Buddhist spy rings, the CIA would also attempt to use Buddhism for political purposes following World War II. My upcoming research will focus on Buddhist spies and the religious ideas they were spreading.


What course are you most excited about teaching this year and why?

            I am most excited for my new Spring session course on “Race-Creation, Colonialism, and Religion.” This course is directly related to my research on Buddhism in the early 20thCentury. This will be my first opportunity to give a course which is entirely based on my own research subject matter, so I am excited to present this history for students and the ways in which this time period continues to be relevant today. My research focuses on religious people reinterpreting their worldview to deal with issues of racism, colonialism, and immigration. My course will use primary sources to show the development of ideology in North America, which is directly traceable due to the publishing revolution that took place beginning around the turn of the century. In other words, we can actually trace the development of ideas by following religious magazines, newspapers, and other published materials. I am excited to show students the ways in which religious ideas developed in the past, and the patterns which make that history relevant today.

What have you been doing to cope with the current COVID-19 situation, have you found any new past times?

            During the initial phases of the lockdown, I decided to take up drawing as a way to pass the time. I used to love drawing as a kid, and so I thought it may be a nice way to pass the time. Thus far, I have been really enjoying it, and by continuing to draw over the summer, I can see definite improvement in my work; although I am certainly not quitting my day job to start an Etsy account either! I have also found that drawing is a good way to stay off my phone, and instead focus on what I’m seeing or what I’m doing.

What is your favorite thing about Queen’s/Kingston so far?

            Due to the pandemic, my hiring and orientation was completed online which means that even though I now work at Queen’s University, I have never actually been to Kingston in my life. This pandemic is making for strange times for everyone. I am really looking forward to physically seeing campus, as well as the city of Kingston.

            My favourite thing about working at Queen’s so far is the people I have met. From the administration staff who helped me in orientation to my colleagues in the School of Religion, I have encountered a friendly and welcoming environment in my time at Queen’s.

What excites you most about your new role at Queen’s?

            The thing I am most excited about in my new role at Queen’s is the opportunity to share my research with others. I am excited to teach students, to engage with my colleagues in the department, and to publish my findings. When completing a PhD dissertation, it can be rather isolating as you sit at home and write about ideas while sitting between stacks of books. The whole time I wrote, I was excited about the research I was doing, but I have not been able to share it. My position at Queen’s will provide me with the opportunity to share all of the research I’ve done with a larger audience, and allow me to show why this historical research is still so important in the world today. I am truly excited to share my research with my students and the Queen’s community at large.