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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Sara Ann Swenson

Sara Ann Swenson portrait

PhD Candidate, Communities and Identities


514 Hall of Languages


  • Degree: Began Ph.D. program in 2013.
  • Concentration: Communities and Identities
  • Advisor: Gareth Fisher

Sara Ann Swenson is a doctoral candidate in the Religion Department at Syracuse University. Her dissertation analyzes how charity volunteers in Vietnam adapt Buddhist worldviews and practices to navigate ethical struggles amid rapid urbanization. Her research is based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Ho Chi Minh City from 2017 to 2019.

Her work has been funded through the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship; Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA); and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowship in Buddhist Studies, awarded through the American Council of Learned Societies.

Swenson holds an M.Phil. in Religion (Syracuse University, 2016), a Certificate of Advanced Study in Women’s and Gender Studies (Syracuse University, 2015), an M.A. in Comparative Religion (Iliff School of Theology, 2012), and a B.A. in English (University of Minnesota Duluth, 2009).


Forthcoming. “‘Three Trees Make a Mountain’: Women and Contramodern Buddhist Volunteerism in Vietnam.” Asian Ethnology.

2021 “The Political Spirituality of Buddhist Volunteerism in Contemporary Vietnam.” Political Theology 22 (1): 68–74. DOI:

2020 “The Affective Politics of Karma among Buddhist Cancer Charities in Vietnam.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 15 (4): 33–62. DOI:

2020 “Feeling for Fate: Karma and the Senses in Buddhist Nuns’ Ordination Narratives.” Journal of Global Buddhism 21: 71–86. DOI:

2020 “Compassion without pity: Buddhist dana as charity, humanitarianism, and altruism.” Religion Compass 14 (9): 1–10. DOI:

2018 “Mixed-Reality: Social Media as Ethnographic Method.” Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa National Honor Society for Religious Studies and Theology 42 (1): 1–15.

2017 “Religious Wonderlands: Eros, Madness, and Ethics in Religious Studies through the work of Lynne Huffer.” Journal of Theology & Sexuality 22 (3): 133–142. DOI: