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Robert Campany

Headshot of Prof Rob Campany

Gertrude Conway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities

Professor of Asian Studies


Office: Buttrick 259




PhD – University of Chicago, 1988


  • Chinese religious history ca. 300 B.C.E. to 600 C.E.
  • Comparative religious studies
  • History of Chinese religions
  • Daoism
  • East Asian Buddhism


I’m a historian of Chinese religions (particularly in the long period from 300 BCE to 800 CE) who approaches this topic with an interdisciplinary set of conceptual tools, questions, and approaches. My publications to date—six books (plus a manuscript currently under review), two co-edited volumes, and more than forty articles and chapters—have examined topics and texts spanning the Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian traditions in China as well as popular practices. I’ve returned repeatedly to texts of the anecdote genre to see what we might learn from them about religious worldviews. Some of the aspects of religion explored in my research include death and the dead, notions of the afterlife and of immortality, local gods and temples, miracle tales, narratives of holy persons, the nature of interreligious interactions, ideas and practices involving Daoist and Buddhist scriptures, and intersections between religion and dietary regimens. Recently I’ve also investigated ancient and medieval notions of what happens when we dream, methods for interpreting dreams, and how dreams were responded to by practitioners of a wide variety of self-cultivational disciplines. One of my current projects is an investigation of the complex relationships among human and other types of selves as depicted and imagined in a wide range of texts.


  • The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE – 800 CE (Harvard University Asia Center Publications, 2020)
  • Signs from the Unseen Realm: Buddhist Miracle Tales from Early Medieval China (University of Hawai’i Press, 2012)
  • Making Transcendents: Ascetics and Social Memory in Early Medieval China (University of Hawaii Press, 2009)
  • To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth: A Translation and Study of Ge Hong’s Traditions of Divine Transcendents (University of California Press, 2002)
  • Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China (State University of New York Press, 1996)