Asma, Stephen T.

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Asma, Stephen T.

PERSONAL:

Education: Northern Illinois University, B.A., 1988; Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Ph.D., 1993. Religion: Buddhist.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Liberal Education, Columbia College, 600 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60605. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, educator, musician, composer, and illustrator. Columbia College, Chicago, IL, professor of philosophy and interdisciplinary humanities, 1993—, acting chair of liberal education department, 2001-02, coordinator of humanities division of liberal education department, 2004-05, teaching academy senior fellow, 2004-05. Visiting professor, Buddhist Institute, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2003. Professional jazz musician in Chicago, 1988-95. Freelance cartoonist and illustrator.

MEMBER:

American Philosophical Association.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Dissertation research award, Southern Illinois University graduate school, 1991-92; faculty development research awards, Columbia College, 1996-97 and 2001-02.

WRITINGS:

(And illustrator) Buddha for Beginners, Writers and Readers Publishing (New York, NY), 1996.

Following Form and Function: A Philosophical Archaeology of Life Science, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1996.

Stuffed Animals & Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 2005.

Contributor to books, including Monty Python and Philosophy, edited by George Reisch and Gary Hardcastle, Open Court Publishing, 2005. Contributor to periodicals, including the Humanist, Biology & Philosophy, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Philosophical Quarterly. Contributing cartoonist, Skeptic magazine, 1999—.

SIDELIGHTS:

Philosophy professor Stephen T. Asma has a wide range of interests that include the history of science, museum studies, and Buddhism; he is also a jazz musician, composer, and illustrator. He illustrated his first book, Buddha for Beginners. His knowledge of philosophy informs not only his books on Buddhism but those on other subjects.

Following Form and Function: A Philosophical Archaeology of Life Science is a study of evolution in which Asma makes a case that scientists should embrace not just one or two but all three key factors in Charles Darwin's theory—natural selection, laws of growth, and the endurance of ancestral forms. These factors are not competing but complementary, he writes, and consideration of all of them helps to explain why very different animals have some of the same biological components. According to John R. Jungck, reviewing the book for BioScience, Asma believes "that it is not possible to understand evolutionary biology without sorting out a set of philosophical questions." Jungck added that the author "displays remarkable clarity in reformulating our conceptions of which competing philosophies could be consistently held by an individual."

Philosophical considerations also shape museum collections, Asma notes in Stuffed Animals & Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums. He interviewed officials at major natural history museums around the world, and he explained the thinking behind their exhibits as well as the processes used for preservation of specimens. He discusses how collections and the philosophies behind them have changed over the years, with scholarly respectability replacing a focus on the bizarre and shocking. Some critics thought Asma offered a valuable explanation of museum workings. "He succeeds admirably in providing a ‘decoder device’" for patrons, commented Michael D. Cramer in the Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book a "rigorous, entertaining work."

Asma wrote The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha after teaching Buddhism in Cambodia in 2003. The communist Khmer Rouge, who ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, outlawed Buddhism, which had been the nation's predominant religion, and destroyed many Buddhist texts and temples. The practice of Buddhism did not recover until the 1990s, and Asma saw teaching as a way to help young Cambodians get in touch their Buddhist heritage. Cambodians generally adhere to Theravada Buddhism, considered the religion's purest form, different from what Asma sees as a diluted type of Buddhism practiced in Western nations. Several critics found the volume to be both entertaining and enlightening. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, saw "striking insights" in a work that mingles "hair-raising anecdotes and expert analysis." Library Journal reviewer Harold M. Otness remarked that Asma displayed "a sharp pen" and "a sharper sense of humor." A Publishers Weekly commentator concluded that Asma had produced a "colorfully entertaining" book that explains Buddhism's importance to Southeast Asia. Jerry V. Haines, writing in the Washington Post, summed up The Gods Drink Whiskey as "Buddhism 101 and a fascinating look at a land where every day is a challenge."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Asma, Stephen T., The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 2005.

PERIODICALS

BioScience, October, 1999, John R. Jungck, review of Following Form and Function: A Philosophical Archaeology of Life Science, p. 839.

Booklist, April 15, 2001, Nancy Bent, review of Stuffed Animals & Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums, p. 1517; Donna Seaman, June 1, 2005, review of The Gods Drink Whiskey, pp. 19-20.

Isis, December, 2003, Keith R. Benson, review of Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads, p. 688.

Library Journal, April 15, 2001, Michael D. Cramer, review of Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads, p. 127; July 1, 2005, Harold M. Otness, review of The Gods Drink Whiskey, p. 86.

Publishers Weekly, April 2, 2001, "Nature Freaks and Freaks of Nature," p. 58; May 16, 2005, review of The Gods Drink Whiskey, p. 59.

Washington Post, June 26, 2005, Jerry V. Haines, review of The Gods Drink Whiskey, Travel section, p. 2.

ONLINE

Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (October, 2005), Bryan Miller, interview with Stephen T. Asma.

California Bookwatch,http://www.midwestbookreview.com/ (December, 2006), review of The Gods Drink Whiskey.

PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (August 9, 2005), N.A. Hayes, review of The Gods Drink Whiskey.

Stephen T. Asma Home Page,http://www.stephenasma.com (March 28, 2007).