Trent Walker

Research on Southeast Asian Buddhist Chant, Literature, and Manuscripts

I research and teach about Southeast Asian Buddhism, literature, and music. I am currently Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies and Thai Professor of Theravada Buddhism in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan (faculty page here).

My research spans the medieval period to the present, focusing on handwritten materials—bark-paper documents, palm-leaf manuscripts, and stone inscriptions—and their performative realization in speech, chant, and song. I have long worked with Thai, Khmer, Lanna, Lao, Pali, and Sanskrit sources, and more recently with those in Tai Khün, Tai Lue, Shan, and Vietnamese. In the field of Khmer literature, I authored Until Nirvana’s Time: Buddhist Songs from Cambodia (Shambhala Publications, 2022, winner of 2024 Khyentse Foundation Prize for Outstanding Translation) and co-edited a major anthology, Out of the Shadows of Angkor: Cambodian Poetry, Prose, and Performance through the Ages (Mānoa/University of Hawai‘i Press, 2022). Recent publications include articles on Thai literary history, Lao and Shan exegesis, Theravada nuns, Pali-vernacular homiletics, Khmer epigraphy, and Vietnamese Buddhist translation

I am working on two other book projects. The first, provisionally called "Classical Reading, Vernacular Writing: A Bitextual History of Southeast Asian Buddhism," argues that a distinct mode of translation was the core intellectual and literary activity in early modern Theravada Buddhist cultures. The second, tentatively titled "Buddhist Literature of Cambodia and Thailand: A Transnational History," draws on the metadata for nearly two million pages of manuscripts I am curating for the Buddhist Digital Resource Center. 

I received a BA in Religious Studies from Stanford and a PhD in Buddhist Studies from UC Berkeley, where my dissertation focused on Cambodian chanting manuscripts. I also completed postdocs in the Department of Thai at Chulalongkorn University and the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University. This website provides access to my publications as well as audio recordings, media appearances, syllabi, and digital tools.

Photo by Lan Le