Jessica Zu

Jessica Zu
  • University of Southern California
  • Assistant Professor of Religion
  • Faculty Fellow (2023-2024)
  • "Karma, Science, and a Just Society: Buddhist Philosophical Toolboxes for Post-Racial and Post-Caste Worldmaking"

Jessica Zu is Assistant Professor of Religion at University of Southern California, Dornsife. She studies the intellectual history of modern China, theory of action, and Buddhist social philosophy. Her project, “Karma, Science, and a Just Society,” explores the understudied history of Buddhist social philosophy in twentieth-century Asia. Her findings reveal that many anti-colonial struggles in Asian countries brought forth a social turn of Buddhist soteriology that sought to actualize the ancient Buddhist spiritual equality into tangible social equality. These forgotten social theories could be valuable resources for our collective creation of a post-racial, post-caste world and for motivating an adequate response to the climate crisis.

Much of Zu’s published work uncovers the marginalized philosophical views on key modern debates about what makes us human, how do we know, and how to build a nonviolent society. In particular, she investigates how Buddhist processual holism and theory of action allowed many Asian thinkers to retheorize society not as the sum of its members but as motivated, compassionate, organizational co-actors. Focusing on the philosophical views silenced by Marxist historical materialism, her research recovers what Buddhism has to offer in the ongoing inquiries of nonviolence, revolution, and justice. Her work has appeared in academic journals such as International Journal of Asian Studies, Journal of Global Buddhism, and History of Religions. She is currently working on her book manuscript, Dharma, Darwin, and Democracy: Buddhist Social Philosophy in Modern China.

Zu was the recipient of the ACLS Robert Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowship in Buddhist Studies, 2017–2018. She received her Ph.D. from Princeton University in 2020, where she was a graduate research fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion from 2019-2020.