Dr. Sarah Richardson

Professional Biography

Sarah Aoife Richardson is a historian of the arts and religions of South Asia with a specialization in Buddhist visual and material practice, especially Himalayan painting. Sarah holds a PhD from the University of Toronto (2016), and is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, in the History of Religions for the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She also worked with Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto as the Director of Partnerships and Engagement and helped to develop research and teaching support in Buddhist Studies at the University and beyond. She especially enjoys teaching and learning about the ways that the arts are used in religious contexts, and how the arts move people and build communities. She loves teaching, and is also passionate about finding ways to help students experience the arts more richly in her courses. In 2020 she was awarded the UTM Teaching Excellence Award for Sessional Instructors.

Sarah is working on a book, Visual Words in Tibetan Architecture, which is an in-depth study of the rich program of inscribed murals at an important fourteenth-century Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Shalu (Zhwa lu). Mural paintings, Sarah argues, were then (and are still) useful in larger cultural projects of Tibetan Buddhist knowledge production and social communication. She also extends her scholarly practice to the museum, and has researched for years the largely unpublished Tibetan paintings collection at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (ROM), where she is also working to bring forward an upcoming exhibition focused on how Buddhist religious art constructs and represents vision exchange.

Sarah is also the host of The Circled Square: Buddhist Studies in Higher Education podcast (learn more at http://teachingbuddhism.net/)

Coming soon

This section is still under development.

Coming soon

This section is still under development.

Introducing Dr. Sarah Richardson

Listen to Dr. Richardson introduce her focus at the intersection of religion, history, and visual culture.  

The Value of Making Art in Class

Dr. Richardson talks about the way in which she has combined the study of art with art-making in her classes. As students begin to embrace the process of creating art, they can better understand the art that they are analyzing and notice things that they could not see before. They can move beyond solely verbal communication to material communication. Not only does this process help students embody their learning, but it also helps them move through feelings of inadequacy around creativity, and fosters community in class.

Creating Better Stories through Art

Dr. Richardson explains how studying art is also the study of how human beings create stories out of their time and place. Histories and political movements are stories made by piecing facts together and choosing goals to make out of them. For students to understand themselves as potential change-makers, they first need to know which stories are important to them, and then how to represent and communicate those stories to others. In this way, studying art is also the study of how to move the hearts and minds of people. 

How Art Makes an Argument

Dr. Richardson discusses that the function of art is often to be seen and responded to. However, art from other times and places will elicit a very different response from modern viewers than from viewers at the time it was made. This discrepancy, when pointed out to us, allows us to see our societal conditioning in the assumptions we make about the art piece. Understanding this, we can then see art as a vehicle for communicating norms to its community members – how to be an ethical person, a religious person, etc. It makes these arguments through images instead of words, through eliciting opinions and assumptions rather than making commands. 

Teaching with Kindness, Being Open to Joy and Connection

Dr. Richardson discusses the importance of understanding the stress that students are under and creating a learning environment that is playful. Feeling pressure to perform, to prove your intelligence, or worrying about not having finished the reading can create a mindset that is not receptive to real learning. Seeing this, Dr. Richardson hopes to take immediate judgment out of her classrooms, allowing time for students to try new skills without feeling like they already have to be perfect. 

Incorporating Embodied Learning into Any Classroom

Dr. Richardson explains that teaching any subject can incorporate more hands-on learning, whether it’s through building models, mind-mapping on paper with a group, drawing, or even using Play-Doh. Physical manifestations of a topic can provide interesting points of discussion that might not be reached otherwise.  

Meeting Difference and the Importance of Empathy

Dr. Richardson discusses the way in which studying history can broaden one’s perspective and generate empathy. So often we get caught in thinking that our experience is universal, which is not at all the case. Understanding people from other places and times can help us understand each other, and see that the choices each person makes are perfect under their idiosyncratic circumstances. With greater empathy, we can move towards making choices together. Part of building an environment of empathy is helping students understand that they don’t need to prove themselves in the classroom; everyone is there to learn together and from one another. 

How the ORID method supports critical thinking and inclusion

ORID stands for objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional. Dr. Richardson explains how these four stages lead us toward analytical thinking and how we can follow these steps in the classroom. By ensuring that all voices are heard, we can make this a collaborative process and lead students toward answering bigger questions. 

Finding Hope in an Unjust System

Dr. Richardson talks about the challenges of creating equality within the hierarchical system of the university. Despite our changing values on an individual level, the university still retains an older value system that places intellectual work in opposition to compassion. She also discusses how moments of harassment can be turned into moments of critical inquiry, calling us to question the assumptions that are being made.

Why We Need the Humanities During a Pandemic

Dr. Richardson talks about how the priorities of education need to be ones that can help us save our world. The humanities allow us to see patterns in our histories and recognize those patterns in ourselves, so that we can then create better futures. The pandemic has helped us see beyond career-related goals and understand that we have a collective responsibility to be better as human beings. Studying the ways human beings have dealt with times of change in the past can inform our thinking on how to make change happen now. 

A Message for Students

Dr. Richardson recognizes the pressure that young people face when it comes to building their lives. She wants students to understand that it is okay to take your time. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers yet.