Professor Kate Crosby
Professor of Buddhist Studies
Theology & Religious Studies
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
When I was three years old my mother took me to the Victoria and Albert Museum. In the courtyard was a tall Buddha. I became transfixed and that was the beginning. Recently I took my three year old goddaughter to an exhibition at the British Library. We had fun. When someone ‘shh-ed’ us, I wished I could convey the importance of including children even if it may seem above their heads. You never know where it will lead…
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
I work on Buddhist meditation in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia and how it has developed historically alongside other technologies of change. Buddhism teaches that change is inevitable, but also that you can direct change positively. I’m intrigued by the details of the how. I’ve also been amazed by the richness and diversity of the Buddhist tradition of Theravada, which was often presented as rather a monolithic entity in the literature that was available until recently. So I work on documenting unreported Buddhism. Quite often it is from PhD students from those areas that I learn.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I stuck with a subject that didn’t make sense: a meditation system that challenged our understanding of what Buddhist meditation is about and that some dismissed as a minority accident produced by the ignorant in a phase of religious decadence. Uncovering the brilliance of this tradition, its hidden dominance before the disruption wrought by European colonialism, and how it related to obstetrics, intranasal delivery of pharmaceuticals, generative grammar, group theory mathematics and alchemy/traditional chemistry has blown me away. It took 20 years of slow brewing.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I have had so many excelllent teachers. My classic teacher at school, Mary Pym – who did her MA at Kings, conveyed a love of language and classical literature and treated her students as equals who might think for themselves. My supervisor at Oxford, Richard Gombrich, made learning fun, looked after his students’ budding careers and listened to ideas. My Sanskrit teacher in Pune, Bhagavat Shastri, held entire treatises in his head, though I can’t say the same for his teeth. My co-author Andrew Skilton has a persistence to get to the bottom of an issue and the end of a publication. As for managers, I have deep admiration for those who haven’t been too lazy to hold back – rare, but extraordinarily effective.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
I have had so much support of such a varied nature. When my own comprehensive school could not provide enough Latin and Greek classes, my part time Latin teacher arranged for me and some friends to be allowed to join the boys at a nearby public school. There was no public transport so my friends worked out the schedule of their driving lessons to go there and back with us all piled up in the back! I’ve had a number of scholarships and grants across the years and they made all the difference. In terms of writing, my oldest sister was not only an inspiration, but the first to tackle my (continued) habit of writing backwards, and I have several colleagues/friends who give indepth help and feedback at very short notice. Staggering. No books and few articles would make it to the light of day without them.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
The professionalism and friendliness of my academic colleagues; the support for new approaches and an openness to the wider world; the regular writing workshops and get togethers in my own field with colleagues, post docs and PhD students; the Buddhist materials in the nearby BL and BM and the ready availabilty of Sachertorte in Delauney’s.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
By constant abuse of sugar, caffeine and the goodwill of friends, family, staff and publishers.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
By ignoring the one while enjoying the other, often resulting in what feels like spectacular, hair-raising crises, but since everyone else is facing their own crises they seem not to notice too much.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
Pay close attention to gut feelings. The best results can come from sitting with the awkward silences in the field and on the page, and not averting one’s gaze.