UWM Hosts NEAC Distinguished Speakers Bureau Event with Dr. Jennifer Robertson Robo-Buddhism: Kokoro, Technology, and Spirituality in Japan 

In partnership with the Association for Asian Studies and Northeast Asia Council, UWM hosted NEAC Distinguished Speaker, Dr. Jennifer Robertson, Professor Emerita at the University of Michigan. Dr. Robertson delivered an engaging lecture titled, “Robo-Buddhism: Kokoro, Technology, and Spirituality in Japan,” to an audience of faculty, students, and the outside community on April 10, 2024. The event was a resounding success, with more than fifty guests in attendance! Many students from UWM Associate Professor Aragorn Quinn’s classes attended the lecture event, particularly students from Japan 355: Tales of Futures Past. This course is a literature seminar with a focus on Japanese historical fiction and science fiction. The following day, Dr. Robertson visited UWM Associate Teaching Professor Hilary Snow’s class, Honors 350: Sacred Asia, where she led a roundtable discussion with students about her lecture. According to Drs. Quinn and Snow, students in both Honors 350 and Japan 355 showed deep engagement and continued to reference her talk in class discussions for the rest of the semester.

About the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies (NEAC)

The Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies (NEAC) solicits applications from American colleges and universities (for Japanese studies) and any U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities (for Korean studies), especially those without well-established programs on East Asia, to invite a distinguished scholar to give a public lecture on their campus in-person or virtually, followed by a Q&A with teachers and students.

The NEAC Distinguished Speakers Bureau began in 2011 and is supported by funds generously provided by the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC) and the Korea Foundation (KF).

Colleges and universities may apply to host one of the distinguished scholars of Japan or Korea on the NEAC Distinguished Speakers Bureau.

NEAC Distinguished Speaker, Dr. Jennifer Robertson

Jennifer Robertson is Professor Emerita (as of January 2020), Departments of Anthropology and the History of Art, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, and Robotics Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is also Affiliate Professor, Tokyo College, University of Tokyo Institutes for Advance Study (UTIAS), Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo; and Affiliate Professor, Departments of Anthropology and Japan Studies, University of Washington, Seattle.

Robertson earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Cornell University in 1985 (M.A. 1983), where she earned a B.A. in the History of Art in 1975. She also earned an M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, in 1977, and was a Visiting Scholar at the Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo (Research Institute for Oriental Cultures), Gakushūin University, Tokyo, 1978-1981. The recipient of many fellowships and awards, she was an Invited Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin, 1996-1997) and a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2011-2012). American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), Social Science Research Council (SSRC), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Advanced Research in the Social Sciences on Japan, Abé Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Fulbright, Fulbright-Hays, and Monbusho (Japan Ministry of Education, now Monbukagakusho) are among her other scholarships and fellowships. As detailed in her CV, Robertson has been a visiting professor at universities in Egypt, Israel, Japan, Spain, and the United States.

Robertson is the originator and General Editor of COLONIALISMS, a (now closed) book series from the University of California Press. Books in the series explore the historical realities, current significance, and future ramifications of imperialist practices with origins and boundaries outside of “the West.” Formerly Japan Editor of Critical Asian Studies, she now serves on the Editorial Board (http://criticalasianstudies.org). Robertson regularly contributes to the news and non-academic media in the form of interviews, podcasts, and essays.

A historical and visual anthropologist/anthropological historian and art historian, her seven books and over ninety articles and chapters address a wide spectrum of interdisciplinary subjects ranging from the 17th century to the present.  Although her primary area specialty is Japan, where she has lived for over two decades, Robertson has also worked in Sri Lanka (1982-1992) and since 1997 has been working in Israel as well. Her topics of research include nativist and social rectification movements, agrarianism, sex and gender systems and ideologies, mass and popular culture, nostalgia and internationalization, urbanism, the place of Japan in Anthropology, sexuality and suicide, theater and performance, votive and folk art, imperialism and colonialism, eugenics and bioethics, and technology and robotics. Robertson’s publications have been translated into Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. She has taught graduate and undergraduate courses on anthropological history, theories, and methods; non-western colonialisms; art, identity, and anthropology; bio-art; genes and genealogies; human-robot interactions; image-based ethnography and visual literacy; mass and popular cultures; ethnic diversity in Japan; sex, gender and sexuality; and Japanese culture and society, among other subjects.

Robertson resides in Seattle and is currently researching, writing, and editing articles on:  the cultural history of Japanese eugenics; art, science, and technology; sex-gender systems; demystifying “artificial intelligence” and “autonomy”; and the various dimensions of human-robot interaction in Japan and elsewhere. An extension of her fieldwork and archival research on robotics includes a critical exploration of affective AI and embodied intimacy along with an investigation of the problems of algorithmic abstraction and the associated lack of nuance and intersectionality in AI applications. In addition, a new Japan-based project explores technologies of childbirth from the 1920s to 2020s. Robertson’s most recent book is Robo Sapiens Japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family and the Japanese Nation (University of California Press, 2018); a Korean edition (Nulmin Books Publishers, Seoul) with a new preface is forthcoming and an updated Japanese edition is in progress. In addition to her academic work, she makes collages, watercolors, serigraphs, ceramics, and oil paintings (www.biwahamistudio.com).

Read Dr. Robertson’s Talk Descriptions

This event was sponsored by the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies, National Resource Center Title VI Grant Program UWM’s Center of International Education and the College of Letters and Science, Asian Studies Certificate Program, Japanese Program, Departments of Global Studies and Anthropology, Honors College, and the Japanese Culture Association.