College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Robert D. DeCaroli

Robert D. DeCaroli

Robert D. DeCaroli

Associate Professor

Interactions of early South Asian Buddhism with popular religious practice, the origin of the Buddha image and the social, political, religious factors that led to its codification and spread

Robert DeCaroli received his Ph.D. in the field South and Southeast Asian art history from UCLA. He is a specialist in the early history of Buddhism and has conducted fieldwork in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. He is the author of Haunting the Buddha: Indian Popular Religions and the Formation of Buddhism (Oxford UP 2004) as well as of several journal articles and book chapters. The majority of this work deals with early (3rd c. BCE - 5th c. CE) aspects of South Asian material culture and its interaction with forms of regional religious practice.

His more recent research interests include the origin of the Buddha image and the social, political, and religious factors that led to its codification and spread. He has been the recipient of the George Mason University Teaching Excellence Award and has received research grants from the Asian Cultural Council and the Getty Research Institute.

From 2005 to 2014 he served as Director of the Art History Program.

Current Research

Image Problems: Art, Text, and the Development of the Buddha Image in Early South Asia, book manuscript is in process.

 “Iconography and Programmatic Decoration in Early Buddhism” in Cambridge History of Religious Architecture. Forthcoming.

"Art of South and Southeast Asia before 1200" and "Art of South and Southeast Asia after 1200" (Chapters 10 and 24) in Art History. 5th edition, M. Stokstad and M. Cothren eds. Boston: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Forthcoming.

 Lead author for "South Asia" and "Southeast Asia" sections of Axis Mundi. A web-based Art History survey text by Prentice Hall Publishing. Forthcoming.

Selected Publications

“‘The Abode of a Naga King’: Questions of Art, Audience, and Popular Deities at the Ajanta Caves” Ars Orientalis. vol. 40 (2011) 142-161.

Haunting the Buddha: Indian Popular Religions and the Formation of Buddhism. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

“Shedding Skins: Naga Imagery and Layers of Meaning in South Asian Buddhist Contexts” in Buddhist Stupas in South Asia. A. Shimada and J. Hawkes eds. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009) 94-113.

“From the Living Rock: Understanding Images in Early South Asia” in What’s the Use of Art?: Asian Visual and Material Culture in Context. J Mrazek and M Pitelka eds. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008) 21-45.

“Reading Bhaja: A Non-Narrative Interpretation of the Vihara 19 Reliefs.” East and West. vol. 50. (2000) 259-280.

Courses Taught

ARTH 203: Survey of Asian Art

ARTH 382: Arts of India

ARTH 383: Arts of Southeast Asia

ARTH 384: Arts of China

ARTH 394/599: The Museum

ARTH 400: Historiography and Methodology in Art History

ARTH 482/599: Monuments and Memory in Asian Art

HNRS 122: Reading the Arts

Recent Presentations

Ritual and Narrative at the Ajanta Caves. International Association of Buddhist Studies 2011 Taipei, Taiwan.

Buddhist Art and Ritual Practice. American Academy of Religions Oct. 2010. Atlanta GA

Standing Guard: The Terracotta Army. Invited Lecture at the National Geographic Society, Washington DC April 2010.

Dead and Gone: Negotiating Absence and Presence in Images of the Buddha. The American Council of Southern Asian Art Conference. Denison Museum Denison, Ohio. Oct. 2009

Footsteps of the Buddha: Art and Pilgrimage in India. Invited Lecture at the Smithsonian Institution. Sept. 2009

Serpents in the Family Tree: Art of and for the Gods. Invited Lecture for the Center for Indian and South Asian Studies and the Department of Archaeology at University of California, Los Angeles. May 2009.

“The Abode of a Naga King”: Questions of Art, Audience, and Popular Deities at the Ajanta, Invited Lecture at Houston Museum of Fine Arts. April 2009.

Invited Discussant and Respondent at “Nativism in Buddhism” Conference held in Dusseldorf, Germany sponsored by EKO – Haus. September 2008.

In the Media

Consultant for Fairfax County, Virginia school system World History textbook selection. Mentioned in April 17, 2005, Washington Post.