Grant A. Olson - NIU - Foreign Languages & Literature - Staff

Learning Center

Grant A. Olson



PhD, Cornell University, Anthropology/SE Asian Studies
MA, University of Hawaii, (Asian) Religions
BA, Gustavus Adolphus College, English/Education


In 1982, standing on the lanai of the East-West Center’s Hale Manoa facing mauka, Tony McCall from Tasmania posed the following question: “What if the relatively brief time you spent in the Buddhist monkhood turns out to be one of the most peaceful and fulfilling times in your whole life?”
“That would be a shame,” I responded optimistically. Certainly there would be other intensive experiences that would be comparable or rival this time. Well, it hasn’t really worked out that way. Academia and the search for scholarly knowledge could not compare. I thought that working in academia would involve conversations with curious people on a daily basis – but that is not really the case. Most professors hardly collaborate, and most students do not move beyond the realm of requirements. Contexts also change, often for the worse; take our post-2016 election world, for example. I had thought we would have evolved to a higher plane by now, but instead – if we look at our poor university, the state of the State of Illinois and our divided nation – every level is “challenged.” And then there is the matter of debate and compromise for the greater good – what became of that? A fellow monk friend always reminded me: When the going gets rough, never forget that you were once a monk with just two sets of robes and an alms bowl. I have had to remind myself of many things lately, and perhaps that time as a monk was one of the most priceless times ever spent in this life. Nostalgia can be debilitating, but it might also be viewed as a kind of personal revitalization movement, a method for survival, a way to try and reclaim meaning.


Some Publications

A translation of the autobiography of Thai Buddhist artist Kovit Khemananda:
A Sandy Path near the Lake: In Search of the Illusory Khemananda. Translated with Chalermsee Olson. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.

"Southeast Asian Literature" in The Lincoln Library of Essential Information. 44th edition. Cleveland: Lincoln Library Press, 2012.

"Unrequited Leadership, Nostalgia and Progress in Thailand," in Thai Challenge: Unity, Stability & Democracy in Times of Uncertainty. Edited by Thang Nguyen. Nova Publishers, 2008.

"An Aesthetics of Rice" reprinted in The Society of Siam: Selected Articles for the Siam Society's Centenary. Edited by Chris Baker. Bangkok: Siam Society, 2004.

"Thai, Buddhist literature in" in Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Macmillan Reference, 2003.

"Filling the Void: Thai Khwan and Burmese Leip-pya, The Stuff of Which Souls are Made" in Socially Engaged Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Sulak Sivaraksa on His 70th Birthday. Edited by David W. Chappell. Bangkok: Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation, 2003, 271-302.

Editor, Modern Southeast Asian Literature in Translation: A Resource for Teaching, Arizona State University, 1997. For a syllabus of a class on Southeast Asian literature taught at NIU, go here.

A translation of Prayudh Payutto's Buddhadhamma. SUNY Press, 1995.

"Thai Cremation Volumes: A Brief History of a Unique Genre of Literature." Asian Folklore Studies Vol. 51:2 (October 1992), 279-294.

Current projects and interests

Reclaiming music, working on an East-West comparative philosophy project, writing more poetry and prose.


Introduction to Thai Buddhism
Thai Studies

E-mail Grant A. Olson
Watson Hall 101
(815) 753-6455