Natasha Heller headshot

Natasha L. Heller

Associate Professor
Unit: College of Arts and Sciences
Department: Department of Religious Studies
Office location and address
1540 Jefferson Park Ave
Charlottesville, Virginia 22903

Natasha Heller studies Chinese Buddhism in the context of cultural and intellectual history. Her research includes both the pre-modern period (10th through 14th c.) and the contemporary era. Heller's study of an eminent monk of the Yuan dynasty, Illusory Abiding: The Cultural Construction of the Chan Monk Zhongfeng Mingben, was published by Harvard University Asia Center in 2014.  This monograph examines Mingben’s use of poetry, calligraphy, and gong’ancommentary in the context of his distinctive Chan (Zen) teachings. Heller’s current book project concerns picture books published by Buddhist organizations in Taiwan, and how such children’s fiction not only teaches young people about the Buddhist tradition, but also addresses how to relate to clergy, family members, and society. She has published in journals such as History of Religions, the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, and Material Religion.

For three years she was book review editor for the Journal of Chinese Religions.  Currently, she serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies, the board of the Society for the Study of Chinese Religions and the editorial board of the Kuroda Institute.

Heller received her MA in Buddhist Studies from the University of Michigan, and her PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. Before coming to UVa, she was an associate professor in the department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA.   

Prioritizing Presence in a Post-Pandemic World
Source: The Institute of Buddhist Studies, Inc
August 04, 2021 – April 30, 2022
COLA 1500: College Advising Seminars
Credits: 1
COLA courses are 1-credit seminars capped at 18 first-year students, all of whom are assigned to the instructor as advisees. They are topically focused on an area identified by the faculty member; they also include a significant advising component centered on undergraduate issues (e.g., choosing a major, study abroad opportunities, undergraduate research, etc.). For detailed descriptions see
RELG 1500: Introductory Seminar in Religious Studies
Credits: 3
These seminars introduce first- and second-year students to the academic study of religion through a close study of a particular theme or topic. Students will engage with material from a variety of methodological perspectives, and they will learn how to critically analyze sources and communicate their findings. The seminars allow for intensive reading and discussion of material. Not more than two Intro Seminars may count towards the Major.
FORU 1500: Introduction to the Forums
Credits: 3
This course will introduce first-year students to their forum topic. Students should enroll in the section associated with the forum to which they were accepted. (See for information on the forums.)
FORU 1510: Continuing the Forum
Credits: 1
This course follows the first-semester introductory forum class and keeps students engaged in the content of their forum. Students should enroll in the section associated with the forum to which they were accepted. (See for information on the forums.)
RELB 2135: Chinese Buddhism
Credits: 3
This course examines the ways in which Chinese Buddhism differs from the Buddhisms of other countries. The first half of the course introduces Buddhism with a focus on the historical development of the tradition.The second half of the course surveys several philosophical schools and forms of practice including Huayan, Chan, Pure Land, and Tantric Buddhism.
FORU 2500: Forum Capstone Experience
Credits: 3
This course is the capstone course for forum students. It is to be taken in the fourth semester by forum students only. Students should enroll in the section associated with the forum to which they were accepted. (See for information on the forums).
RELG 2715: Introduction to Premodern Chinese Religion
Credits: 3
This course serves as an introduction to the religious beliefs and practices of premodern China. The course covers several broad themes in Chinese religion, including ritual, self-cultivation, means of communicating with the gods, and the intersection of political authority and religion. We will read and analyze texts from different religious traditions, and also look at examples from material culture.
RELG 3001: Gods, Humans, Robots
Credits: 3
The growing role of robots in society presents new challenges, but many of the ethical and philosophical issues raised by robots have long histories. This course will examine golems, automatons, robots, and cyborgs to consider what distinguishes humans, what it means to create other beings, what it means to be embodied, and what relationships we should have with the nonhuman.
RELB 3150: Seminar in Buddhism and Gender
Credits: 3
This seminar takes as its point of departure Carolyn Bynum's statements: "No scholar studying religion, no participant in ritual, is ever neuter. Religious experience is the experience of men and women, and in no known society is this experience the same." The unifying theme is gender and Buddhism, exploring historical, textual and social questions relevant to the status of women and men in the Buddhist world from its origins to the present day.
RELB 3559: New Course in Buddhism
Credits: 1–4
This course provides the opportunity to offer a new course in the subject of Buddhism.
RELG 3559: New Course in Religious Studies
Credits: 3
This course provides the opportunity to offer a new course in the subject of Religious Studies.
RELG 4500: Majors Seminar
Credits: 3
Introduces the study of religion as an interdisciplinary subject, utilizing methods in history of religions, theology, sociology, depth psychology, and literary criticism. The seminars are thematic and topics will vary according to the design of the instructor. Limited to twenty religious studies majors.
RELG 4900: Distinguished Major Thesis
Credits: 3
Students write a thesis, directed by a member of the department, focusing on a specific problem in the theoretical, historical or philosophical study of religion or a specific religious tradition. The thesis grows out of the project proposal and annotated bibliography developed in the Research Methods seminar. Prerequisite: Selection by faculty for Distinguished Major Program and completion of RELG 4800.
RELB 5559: New Course in Buddhism
Credits: 1–4
This course provides the opportunity to offer a new course in the subject of Buddhism.
RELG 5559: New Course in Religion
Credits: 1–4
This course provides the opportunity to offer a new topic in the subject of general religion.
RELB 5715: Seminar on Chinese Religion and Society
Credits: 3
Studies Chinese religion and society within the context of a specific period of Chinese history, or in terms of a specific theme. Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and popular religion will be covered (along with other forms of religion, as appropriate).
RELG 7360: Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion
Credits: 3
Given the multidisciplinary character of religious studies, it is imperative for new scholars to gain a basic sense of theoretical and methodological options in the field. By way of an examination of landmark texts, this course surveys the formation of religious studies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and considers some important contemporary approaches.
RELB 8738: Tutorial in Chinese Buddhist Texts
Credits: 3
This tutorial will focus on the translation of Chinese Buddhist texts into English. Texts will be drawn from a variety of time periods, traditions, and genres. Students will gain familiarity with Buddhist Chinese, and the themes and conventions of Buddhist texts.
RELS 8998: Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Research
Credits: 1–12
For master's research, taken before a thesis director has been selected.
RELS 8999: Non-Topical Research
Credits: 1–12
For master's thesis, taken under the supervision of a thesis director.
RELS 9998: Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Doctoral Research
Credits: 1–12
For doctoral research, taken before a dissertation director has been selected.
RELS 9999: Non-Topical Research
Credits: 1–12
For doctoral dissertation, taken under the supervision of a dissertation director.