Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Stephen T. Asma  

Pen Name: None


Audience: Adult;

Born: N/A

-- Website --
-- Stephen T. Asma on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Asma resides in Chicago and is a Philosophy Professor at Columbia University in Chicago.

Biographical and Professional Information

Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he holds the title of Distinguished Scholar. He is also a jazz musician and a popular guest on Chicago area NPR programs.In 2003, he was Visiting Professor at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia. There he taught "Buddhist Philosophy" as part of their Graduate Program in Buddhist Studies. His book, entitled The ''Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha'' explores the Theravada Buddhism of the region. He has also traveled and studied in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Mainland China - eventually living in Shanghai China in 2005.Asma is the author of several books: ''Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums'', ''Following Form and Function'' and Buddha for Beginners. He has written many articles on a broad range of topics that bridge the humanities and sciences, including "Against Transcendentalism" in the book ''Monty Python and Philosophy'' and "Dinosaurs on the Ark: Natural History and the New Creation Museum" in ''The Chronicle of Higher Education''. He has also written for the ''Chicago Tribune'', ''In These Times'' magazine, the ''Skeptical Inquirer'', the ''Chronicle Review'', ''Skeptic'' magazine, and Chicago Public Radio's news-magazine show ''Eight-Forty-Eight''.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Following Form and Function: A Philosophical Archaeology of Life Science (Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy)
ISBN: 0810113988

Northwestern University Press. 1996

The concepts of form and function have traditionally been defined in terms of biology and then extended to other disciplines. Stephen T. Asma examines the various interpretations of form and function in science and philosophy, reflecting on the philosophical presuppositions underlying the work of Geoffroy, Cuvier, Darwin, and others.

In the continental tradition of Canguilhem and Foucault, Asma's treatment of the historical form/function dispute analyzes the complex interactions among ideologies, metaphysical commitments, and research programs. Following Form and Function is a significant contribution to the history of science, history of philosophy, and disputes within contemporary biology.

Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums
ISBN: 0195163362

Oxford University Press. 2003

The natural history museum is a place where the line between "high" and "low" culture effectively vanishes--where our awe of nature, our taste for the bizarre, and our thirst for knowledge all blend happily together. But as Stephen Asma shows in Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads, there is more going on in these great institutions than just smart fun.
Asma takes us on a wide-ranging tour of natural history museums in New York and Chicago, London and Paris, interviewing curators, scientists, and exhibit designers, and providing a wealth of fascinating observations. We learn how the first museums were little more than high-toned side shows, with such garish exhibits as the pickled head of Peter the Great's lover. In contrast, today's museums are hot-beds of serious science, funding major research in such fields as anthropology and archaeology.
"Rich in detail, lucid explanation, telling anecdotes, and fascinating characters.... Asma has rendered a fascinating and credible account of how natural history museums are conceived and presented. It's the kind of book that will not only engage a wide and diverse readership, but it should, best of all, send them flocking to see how we look at nature and ourselves in those fabulous legacies of the curiosity cabinet."--The Boston Herald.

The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha
ISBN: 0060834501

HarperOne. 2006

Buddhism, Booze, and the Four Noble Truths

Buddha for Beginners
ISBN: 1571745955

Hampton Roads Publishing. 2009

Newly re-issued, this is a funny and informative illustrated guide to Buddhism that will appeal to hip young audiences as well as academics.

On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears
ISBN: 019533616X

Oxford University Press. 2009

Hailed as "a feast" (Washington Post) and "a modern-day bestiary" (The New Yorker), Stephen Asma's On Monsters is a wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters--how they have evolved over time, what functions they have served for us, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future. Beginning at the time of Alexander the Great, the monsters come fast and furious--Behemoth and Leviathan, Gog and Magog, Satan and his demons, Grendel and Frankenstein, circus freaks and headless children, right up to the serial killers and terrorists of today and the post-human cyborgs of tomorrow. Monsters embody our deepest anxieties and vulnerabilities, Asma argues, but they also symbolize the mysterious and incoherent territory beyond the safe enclosures of rational thought. Exploring sources as diverse as philosophical treatises, scientific notebooks, and novels, Asma unravels traditional monster stories for the clues they offer about the inner logic of an era's fears and fascinations. In doing so, he illuminates the many ways monsters have become repositories for those human qualities that must be repudiated, externalized, and defeated.

Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey
ISBN: 157174617X

Hampton Roads Publishing. 2010

Profound and amusing, this book provides a viable approach to answering the perennial questions: Who am I? Why am I here? How can I live a meaningful life? For Asma, the answers are to be found in Buddhism.

There have been a lot of books that have made the case for Buddhism. What makes this book fresh and exciting is Asma's iconoclasm, irreverence, and hardheaded approach to the subject. He is distressed that much of what passes for Buddhism is really little more than "New Age mush." He loudly asserts that it is time to "take the California out of Buddhism." He presents a spiritual practice that does not require a belief in creeds or dogma. It is a practice that is psychologically sound, intellectually credible, and esthetically appealing. It is a practice that does not require a diet of brown rice, burning incense, and putting both your mind and your culture in deep storage.

In seven chapters, Asma builds the case for a spiritual practice that is authentic, and inclusive. This is Buddhism for everyone. This is Buddhism for people who are uncomfortable with religion but yearn for a spiritual practice.



Speaking Engagements

Speaking Engagement Availability

Contact Information

Department of Liberal Education Columbia College 600 S. Michigan Avenue Chicago IL 60605