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Norman Girardot

Professor Emeritus

1965, B.S. College of the Holy Cross

1965-1966, Dartmouth Medical School

1968, M.A. University of Chicago

1974, Ph.D. University of Chicago

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Norman Girardot is University Distinguished Professor in the Religion Studies Department. Trained in the comparative history of religions under Mircea Eliade at the University of Chicago, he taught at Notre Dame University and Oberlin College before coming to Lehigh in 1980. His special research areas include Chinese religious tradition, especially Daoism, popular religious movements (e.g. the posthumous Elvis Presley cult), the intellectual history of the study of China and the rise of the discipline known as “comparative religions,” and the relation of religion and outsider/vernacular/visionary art. Author, co-editor, and/or co-translator of some eight books, his Daoism and Ecology (2001) and his award winning The Victorian Translation of China: James Legge’s Oriental Pilgrimage (2002) have now appeared in Chinese translation (2008 and 2011). Recently, his pioneering work on early Daoist tradition (Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism: The Theme of Chaos, 1983, 1989) has appeared in a new edition entitled Myth and Meaning in Early Daoism: The Theme of Hundun (2008). His interest in scholarship surrounding Eliade goes back to his days at Notre Dame when he organized the first American conference on Eliade’s literary work and, with Mac Ricketts, co-edited the book Imagination and Meaning: The Scholarly and Literary Worlds of Mircea Eliade (1982). He has also recently participated in the symposium on Eliade at the University of Bucharest sponsored by the Romanian Association for the Study of Religion (2006). He has co-edited a special issue of the journal Archaevs: études d’histoire des religions |studies in the history of religions (sponsored by the International Association for the History of Religions and the Romanian Association for the History of Religions) on the theme of “Remembering/Rethinking/Revalorizing Mircea Eliade” forthcoming in  November 2011. In addition to his ongoing interest and teaching related to Chinese religion and Daoist studies, his current research and writing largely concerns outsider artistic and visionary tradition, especially as seen in the work of artists like Mr. Imagination, Howard Finster, Aloise Corbaz and others. Some of this work touches upon methodological issues concerning the checkered relation of art and religion as suggested by a reconstructed latter-day Eliadean perspective (e.g., “An Inquisition into the Art Seminar on Art and Religion” in Re-Enchantment, 2009). These pursuits will culminate in an interpretive book for the University of California Press focused on the frantically prolific Southern Baptist preacher, maverick outsider, and visionary artist, Howard Finster (1916-2001). This work, tentatively titled Envisioning Howard Finster: The Myth and Meaning of a Stranger from Another World, is scheduled to appear in 2012-13. Working closely with the Lehigh University Art Galleries and other art centers, he has curated a number of exhibitions of outsider/visionary folk art, the most recent of which was a solo show of Mr. Imagination (Art/Life/Spirit: At Home with Mr. Imagination, 2007), a major retrospective show devoted to Howard Finster (2004), and “Four Outsider Artists: The End is a New Beginning – Lonnie Holley, Charlie Lucas, Mr. Imagination, & Norbert Kox” (2000). While at Lehigh, he has developed a number of exceedingly strange, yet curiously refreshing, courses and quasi-shamanistic performance events — including such courses and events as Deep Play: Doing Myth and Ritual at Lehigh; The Daoist Phantasmagoria; Jesus, Buddha, Mao, and Elvis; Raw Vision: Shamans, Mystics, and Outsider Artists; the levitation of the Rauch Business school, the Blessing of the Hounds, Dao Day, Zac Day, the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine Campus Revival; and the construction of the Lehigh  Millennial Folk Arch in the Outsider Enclave. He has also collaborated on several quite peculiar art installation events that have tended to frighten as well as enlighten onlookers (e.g., several “Eat Art” installations which have featured a Last Supper laid out as a Voodoo altar with a Christ-like Julia Child and a massive display of iconic Spam, Peeps, Twinkie, and burnt toast art). In 2011, he has been a primary investigator for a Henry Luce Foundation grant (The Chinese Bridge Project) that led to student programs in China and the construction of an ancient Chinese woven timber bridge on the Lehigh campus. It has sometimes been noted that he has a seemingly perverse, if not obscene, fondness for calabash gourds.

Selected Publications 


Envisioning Howard Finster: The Myth and Meaning of a Stranger from Another World (Berkeley, Los Angeles, & London: University of California Press) In process

Daojiao yu shengtai: yuzhou jingguan de neizai zhi dao Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Press, 2008 [Chinese edition of Daoism & Ecology].

[New Edition] Myth and Meaning in Early Daoism. The Theme of Chaos (Hundun). Magdalena NM: Three Pines Press, 2008

Co-editor, Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (2001).

The Victorian Translation of China. James Legge’s Oriental Pilgrimage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002

Chinese edition forthcoming. Winner of the John K. Fairbank Prize for a book on China from the American Historical Association and the Excellence in the Study of Religion in Historical Studies of the American Academy of Religion

Co-translator, Isabelle Robinet. Taoist Meditation. Albany: SUNY, 1993.

Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.

Co-editor, Imagination and Meaning: The Scholarly and Literary Worlds of Mircea Eliade, New York, Seabury-Winston/Harper and Row Press, 1982.


Curator for Art/Life/Spirit: At Home with Mr. Imagination, exhibition and catalog, GoggleWorks, Reading PA, 2007

Co-curator for Small Worlds: The Intimate Vision of Dale Gibbons, exhibition, GoggleWorks, Reading PA 2007

Co-curator and catalog essay author for Howard Finster (1916-2001): Revealing the Masterworks (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Art Galleries, 2004

Co-curator and catalog essay author for “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. Religious Folk Art in America” Savannah College of Art and Design, in cooperation with the Folk Art Society of America, October 2002

Catalog Four Outsider Artists: The End is a New Beginning, Bethlehem, PA: LUAG, 2001

Co-curator of two folk art exhibitions at Lehigh University (The Finsters at Lehigh, 1986; Natural Scriptures, 1990) and author, coeditor/co-curator, The Finsters at Lehigh. Catalog and monograph. Bethlehem: LUAG, l986.
Author and Co-editor, Natural Scriptures: Visions of Nature and the Bible in the Work of Hugo Sperger, Mini and Garland Adkins, Jessie and Ronald Cooper, and Howard Finster. Catalog and monograph. Bethlehem: LUAG, 1990.

Selected Presentations, Installations, Articles, and Review Essays

“Voir Rouge/Seeing Red: Alchemical Transformation and Artistic Creativity in Aloise Corbaz’s ‘Great Work’,” pp. 155-183, in Celine Muzelle, Kazuhiko Kudo, Satoshi Takaishi eds., Aloise: Comme un Papillon Sur Elle (2009).
featured presentation “My Eliade: The Utilitarian Splendor of the Strange, the Sacred, and the Sublime,” at the special symposium “Eliade and his Legacy” as a part of the joint meeting of the International Association for the

History of Religions, the European Association of the History of Religions, and the Romanian Association for the History of Religions, Bucharest Romania, September 2006

Installation artwork EAT ART, collaboration with Ricardo Viera, at Northampton Community College, September 2006

Installation artwork SEEING WITH MR. I’S EYES, collaboration with James Difonzo, at GoggleWorks, Reading PA, 2006-2007

“Where There is No Vision the People Perish: Visionary Artists and Religious-Based Environments in the American South,” in Carol Crown, ed., Coming Home! Self-Taught Artists, the Bible and the American South (Jackson:
University Press of Mississippi, 2004), pp. 89-102

“Bad and Nasty Art: Quantity and Quality in the Career of Howard Finster,” in Howard Finster (1916-2001): Revealing the Masterworks (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Art Galleries, 2004), pp. 4-60.

“Visual Culture and Relgion: Outsider Art,” pp. 9624 in Lindsay Jones, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition (New York: Macmillan, 2005)

“Celestial Worlds in the Work of Self-Taught Visionary Artists With Special Reference to Howard Finster’s Vision of 1982,” pp. 73-86 in Nicholas Campion ed., The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena, Proceedings of the

Fourth Conference on the Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena, Magdalen College, Oxford 3-9 August 2003, Special Double Issue of Culture and Cosmos (Bristol UK: Culture and Cosmos, 2005)

“My Way: Teaching the Daode Jing and Daoism at the End of the Millennium” in Gary d. DeAngelis & Warren G. Frisina, eds., Teaching the Daode Jing. New York & London: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. 105-129.

“An Inquisition into the Art Seminar,” in James Elkins & David Morgan, eds., The Art Seminar. Re-Enchantment. New York & London: Routledge, 2008.

“Howard Finster,” catalog essay for Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology, ed. By Elsa Longhauser (New York: Chronicle Books, 1998).

“Ecce Elvis: Elvis Studies as a Postmodernist Paradigm for the Academic Study of Religions,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68 (2000): 603-614.

“Smiles and Whispers: Nostalgic Reflections on Mircea Eliade’s Significance for the Study of Religion,”pp. 143-164 in Bryan Rennie, ed., Changing Religious Worlds, The Meaning and End of Mircea Eliade (Albany: SUNY, 2001)


Courses Taught

Rel 7 Jesus, Buddha, Mao, and Elvis
Rel 8 Prehistoric Religion, Art, and Technology (WS 8)
Rel 64 Religions of China (Asia 64)

Rel 144 Raw Vision: Creativity and Ecstasy in the Work of Shamans, Mystics, and Artist Outsiders

Rel 160 The Taoist Tradition (Asia 160)

Rel 169 Classics of Asian Religion (Asia 169)

Rel 189 Religion and the Visual Arts
Rel 221 Topics in Asian Religions (Asia 221)