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John Osburg to receive a Carnegie Fellowship

April 25, 2018
John Osburg

John Osburg, associate professor of anthropology. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

John Osburg, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester, has been named to the 2018 class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows. Osburg is one of 31 scholars in the humanities or social sciences to be awarded the prestigious honor this year.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York will give each fellow a $200,000 stipend to support their research projects over the next two years. In Osburg’s case, that support will help him pursue two book projects exploring the contemporary revival of religion in China.

“The first book will look specifically at the increasing interest in Tibetan Buddhism,” says Osburg. “The economic reforms started in the late 1970s created a wealthier middle class, leaving people now to search for spiritual meaning in their lives. I want to understand why many affluent Chinese are turning to Tibetan Buddhism, rather than to Chinese Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, or other Chinese spiritual traditions.”

The second project will involve numerous scholars looking at all the major religions in China—Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Christianity, and Confucianism—in the context of spiritual revival, culminating in a collection of essays.

Osburg traces his interest in China to the year he spent teaching English in that country after graduating from college. “I felt there was a research topic around every corner,” he says. As a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, from which he earned his PhD in 2008, his dissertation research took him back to China, where he learned the language well enough to co-host a variety television show in the city of Chengdu.

“The theme of the show was cultural exchange, and the fact that I was a foreigner who could speak Chinese made me very attractive to the producers,” says Osburg. “That opportunity gave me a great window into Chinese society.”

The  fellowship  program  was  created  in  2015  by  Carnegie  Corporation  of  New  York, to support the work of “established and emerging scholars, journalists, public intellectuals, and authors whose work distills knowledge, enriches our culture, and equips leaders in the realms of public policy, humanities, international relations, law, and the arts.”

In the three years that the fellowship program has been in existence, this marks the second time that a University of Rochester faculty member has received the honor. Joshua Dubler, an assistant professor of religion, was awarded a Carnegie fellowship in 2016.

Among his other honors, Osburg was named a fellow of the Public Intellectual Program of the National Committee on US-China Relations. He joined the University of Rochester faculty in 2010.

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