Sara A. Swenson

|Assistant Professor
Academic Appointments
  • Assistant Professor, Religion

  • Affiliated Faculty, Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages

Buddhist volunteerism is on the rise across Asia. In Vietnam's fastest growing urban area, Ho Chi Minh City, religious charities fulfill humanitarian needs by subsidizing medicine, serving free meals, and fundraising for infrastructure. Many of these charities are informal and unofficial. Volunteers gather in home kitchens; give aid on street corners; and fundraise for projects over social media. Through these small-scale local efforts, Buddhist communities are shaping new futures for social service provisioning amid national policy shifts toward increasing economic privatization in Vietnam.

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Thornton, Room 211
HB 6036




  • B.A. University of Minnesota-Duluth
  • M.A. Iliff School of Theology
  • M.A.. Syracuse University
  • Ph.D. Syracuse University

Selected Publications

  • 2024. "The Merit of Meat: Karma as Social Fact among Buddhist Food Charities in Vietnam." Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 22 (7): 5829.

    2024. "The Life and Legacies of Thích Nhất Hạnh." Journal of Vietnamese Studies 19 (1): 1–8.

    2024. "Religion, Food Charity, and Care in Vietnam." Co-authored with Le Hoang Anh Thu. Introduction to a Special Issue of Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 22 (4): 5826.

    2023. "Buddhist Moral Emotions." Co-authored with Jessica Starling. Introduction to a Special Issue of Journal of Religious Ethics 51 (4): 691–700. DOI:

    2023. "An Uncouth Monk: The Moral Aesthetics of Buddhist Para-Charisma." Journal of Religious Ethics 51 (4): 761–781. DOI:

    2022. "'Three Trees Make a Mountain': Women and Contramodern Buddhist Volunteerism in Vietnam." Asian Ethnology 81 (1–2): 3–22. Web:

    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. "Following Feeling: 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: