I am a scholar of religion and an Assistant Professor, in the Religious Studies program and the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
My first book, The Holy Madmen of Tibet, will be published in June 2015. This is the first book-length study of the phenomenon of “holy madmen” (smyon pa). These are Buddhist renunciants who take on norm-overturning modes of behavior—eating filth in public spaces, provoking others to physically attack them, going about naked or dressed in human remains—and achieve a degree of saintliness as a result.
While it addresses figures living from the eleventh century to the present, most of the book focuses on the lives and writings of the three most famous “holy madmen,” who were all born within six years of one another in the fifteenth century, a period of civil war and great changes in Tibetan religious culture. These are: the Madman of Tsang (1452-1507), author of the famous Life of Milarepa; the Madman of Ü (1458-1532), who spent much of his life in meditative retreat, including ten years confined to a single room; and Drukpa Künlé (born 1455), known as “the Madman of the Drukpa Kagyü” (or somewhat mistakenly, “the Madman of Bhutan”), one of the most beloved—and most misunderstood—figures of Tibetan religious history.