The widely renouned Buddhist scholar Michael Jerryson (1974–2021) passed away on 9 July at the age of 47, following a two-year battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Jerryson was a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences—formerly the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies—at Youngstown State University and lived in nearby Howland Township, Ohio.
Jerryson received an undergraduate degree in Western philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1996 and then enlisted in the United States Peace Corps, serving as an English teacher in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. He went on to earn a master’s degree in Languages and Cultures of Asia from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2001 and a PhD in Religious studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2008.
An expert on religion and violence, Jerryson authored and edited nine books on Buddhism, the religions of South and Southeast Asia, and comparative religion, and founded the Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence unit at the American Academy of Religion. He also served as a consultant for the Taiwan-based global Buddhist organization Fo Guang Shan.
Some of his most influential works include Buddhist Warfare (Oxford University Press 2010), co-edited by Mark Juergensmeyer; If You Meet the Buddha on the Road: Buddhism, Politics, and Violence (Oxford University Press 2018); and Buddhist-Muslim Relations in a Theravada World (Palgrave Macmillan 2020), co-edited by Iselin Frydenlund. He also co-edited Violence and the World’s Religious Traditions (Oxford University Press 2016) with Margo Kitts and Mark Juergensmeyer, and served as the editor of the Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism (Oxford University Press 2016).
In May 2022, Equinox Publishing plans to release a special ebook titled Buddhist Violence and Religious Authority – A Tribute to the Work of Michael Jerryson, edited by Mark Juergensmeyer and Margo Kitts. As an introduction, the editors write:
Most recently in his critique of U Wirathu, the Burmese Buddhist monk whose advocacy of Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar has stirred a boiling pot of anti-Muslim resentments, Michael Jerryson has shown that reverence for Burmese religious authorities transcends respect for traditional Buddhist doctrine and monastic accomplishments. It emanates instead from the phenomenon of religious authority itself and from the cultural institutions which support it. His examinations have resulted in heightened sensitivity to the sociology of religious authority and violence. The scholarly contributions in this volume include discussions of Buddhism and violence, religious authority and nationalism, whether Buddhist, Christian, white, or other. (Equinox Publications)
Jerryson’s many projects and interests brought him into contact with scholars and thought leaders around the world, many of whom have offered their respects on social media.
Jerryson is survived by his wife and two children, five brothers and two sisters, and his mother. A private burial is planned, followed by a public service on 17 July. Organizers ask that unvaccinated attendees wear masks and practice social distancing. Youngstown State University is planning a memorial to be held after the Labor Day weekend (4–6 September), with further details to be announced.
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