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Holding Court: Reiko Ohnuma

Photo of Reiko OhnumaHolding Court is an interview series that features the authors of the new books on display in the King Arthur Flour café in Baker-Berry Library.

Reiko Ohnuma, professor of religion, is a specialist in the Buddhist traditions of South Asia, and teaches on Hinduism and Indian Buddhism.  Her book, Unfortunate Destiny: Animals in the Indian Buddhist Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2017), looks at the roles played by nonhuman animals within the imaginative thought-world of Indian Buddhism, as reflected in pre-modern South Asian Buddhist literature. What may be the key to her successful writing practice?  Yoga before she sits down to write.

What is your book about?

My book is about Indian Buddhist depictions of animals—which really turn out to be statements about what it means to be human.

Where do you get your ideas?

My last book was on mothers and motherhood as a trope in Indian Buddhism, and since mothers are often compared to animals, I was naturally led to the topic of animals.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

For my last two books, I have relied heavily on mind-mapping software, which I find to be really helpful in organizing my ideas. I use FreeMind, which is an open-access program.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I don't know, but I hope that it contains lots of physical books and continues to allow for free and aimless wandering through the stacks.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Do 20 minutes of yoga before you try to write anything!

And finally, what do you read for fun?

I wish my answer was more impressive than celebrity gossip rags—but, there you go.

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