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Russell Kirkland

Blurred image of the arch used as background for stylistic purposes.
Professor Emeritus (deceased)

Russell Kirkland is a broadly trained scholar of religion and Asian studies. 

Before he began losing his eyesight in 2005, he was active in scholarly organizations and gave invited presentations in Australia, China, Japan, and at universities across the U.S. Despite several surgeries, he remains visually impaired. For several years, he managed to continue teaching and serving as the Religion department’s undergraduate coordinator. But finally in 2012, a stroke ended his teaching career, and in 2014 he accepted disability retirement. Though physically challenged and unable to travel, his intellect remains intact. Thanks to the internet, he has resumed some scholarly activities.

When Prof. Kirkland returned home after his stroke, he found a suggestion to edit a 4-volume collection on Taoism in the Routledge series Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. Published in May 2015, it includes 59 articles by 39 international scholars (17 women, 22 men), designed not only to reflect the latest research but to highlight 21st-century paradigms for Taoist Studies. Prof. Kirkland is also nearing completion of his long-awaited English edition of the late Evgeny Torchinov’s book Daoizm: Opyt Istoriko-religioznogo Opisaniia for publication by Ashgate.

Before Prof. Kirkland’s health problems, he taught regular courses on Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Japanese Religions, as well as Intro courses and occasional graduate seminars. In 1996 he offered the university’s first course on Native American Religions, and when the Institute of Native American Studies opened under the leadership of Prof. Jace Weaver, Prof. Kirkland served on its Steering Committee until his health problems brought an end to all campus activities. Prof. Kirkland also served on the faculties of UGA’s Asian Studies Program and the Environmental Ethics Certificate Program.

A sixth-generation Georgian, Kirkland’s ancestors came to America during Colonial times, and several fought in the Revolutionary War. Born in Atlanta, he grew up in Augusta, a short walk from the Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters tournament. He entered what is now Augusta State University at the age of 15, and transferred to Brown University midway through his freshman year. In 1976 he completed his AB in Religious Studies and a simultaneous AM in Asian History. In 1977 his first scholarly article was published, in the Journal Novum Testamentum. He later earned an MA in Religious Studies (1982) and PhD in East Asian Languages & Cultures (1986) from Indiana University. He has taught at the University of Rochester, University of Missouri, Stanford University, Oberlin College, and Macalester College.

Prof. Kirkland’s publications range from Tibet, Japan, and Korea to Native American Studies, though his primary focus has always been China. Until sidelined by his health problems, he authored more than three dozen articles in journals ranging from the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and History of Religions to the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics. He has published chapters in 15 books (most recently Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare) and numerous entries in reference works, from the Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion to the Encyclopedia of Bioethics (4th ed., 2014). After twelve years as book review editor of the Journal of Chinese Religions, he remains a China editor for Religious Studies Review, in which he has published over 175 booknotes since 1989. He also continues to serve as North American editor for Routledge Studies in Taoism.

In 2004, Prof. Kirkland published Taoism: The Enduring Tradition (London: Routledge), the first comprehensive re-evaluation of Taoist history and teachings in accordance with Taoists’ understandings of their own tradition. After reading it and many of Kirkland’s other writings on Taoism, a Quanzhen priest, Liu Xuewen—the first graduate of the Chinese Taoist College to come West for advanced research—came to UGA, and ended up being the last graduate student to complete a degree with Prof. Kirkland. Liu’s thesis, Daoism in Modern China, is the first account of the workings of the Taoist College and life at Beijing’s White Cloud Abbey since 1949. Liu utilized materials not available to outsiders in unraveling the complex relationships between China’s Daoist Association and the government of mainland China.



Dr. Kirkland earned both his A.B. in Religious Studies and his A.M. in Asian History from Brown University in 1976. He later earned an M.A. in Religious Studies (1982) and his Ph.D. in Chinese language and literature from Indiana University (1986). He has taught Asian and Native American religions, and related subjects, at the University of Rochester, the University of Missouri, Oberlin College, Macalester College, and Stanford University. At UGA, Professor Kirkland’s regular courses covered Confucianism, Taoism, and Japanese Religions; from time to time he also taught courses on Native American Religions, Buddhism in East Asia, and other topics. He served on the faculty of the Asian Studies Program, the Medieval Studies Program, the Environmental Ethics Certificate Program, and the Native American Studies program.

Research Interests:

Professor Kirkland has published widely. His first scholarly article (1977) was in Biblical Studies. He has also published studies pertaining to Japan, Korea, and Tibet. But his primary area of research is China. Professor Kirkland been teaching and writing about Taoism for more than thirty years, and has presented scholarly papers in China, Japan, and Australia, as well as throughout North America. 

In 2004, Professor Kirkland published Taoism: The Enduring Tradition (London and New York: Routledge). In it, he works to show that, over the centuries of imperial Chinese history, Taoism was a valued and important element of Chinese culture and society, among both the literate classes and the general public. The book is the first major effort to re-evaluate Taoism on terms that are defined with reference to the ways in which centuries of Taoists have understood and practiced their own tradition, rather than simply by how modern Confucians misrepresented it to foreign scholars and the Chinese people alike.  This influential book has been translated into Italian, and other publications by Professor Kirkland have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.

Selected Publications:

Journal Articles

Entries in Reference Works


Guides for Writing Class Papers

Outlines of Course Material

Asian Religions

Of note:

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