Asian Studies New Faculty Spotlight – Janet Um



Meet our new faculty members in Asian Studies and learn more about their background and passions! In this Faculty Spotlight, we introduce you to Dr. Janet Um, our newest lecturer in Sanskrit language and literature. She offers insight into the research interests that continue to guide her pedagogy and her excitement to teach and learn from the differing student perspectives at UBC.


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Could you tell us a little about your academic background prior to joining UBC Department of Asian Studies? What brought you to Asian Studies?

What inspires you to teach?

Can you tell us what you will be teaching in the UBC Department of Asian Studies? What do you want students to gain out of your courses?

What are some other interests you enjoy pursuing outside of your work?


Could you tell us a little about your academic background prior to joining UBC Department of Asian Studies? What brought you to Asian Studies?

Before coming to UBC, my academic “home” was in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, where I completed my doctoral degree in Sanskrit language and literature. During my graduate program I focused on the narrative and poetic traditions of premodern South Asia. What kinds of stories did people tell through narrative literature and art? How did they tell them? And what were the social lives of storytellers and their audiences like? These are some of the questions that guided my course of study and continue to inform my teaching and research.

At UBC I have the opportunity to teach both Sanskrit language and content-related courses in a vibrant department. I am excited to continue teaching in an area studies department because I have had productive conversations with and learned so much from faculty and students working on different time periods and regions. In UBC’s Department of Asian Studies, I look forward to engaging with an even wider range of regional, historical, and disciplinary perspectives.


What inspires you to teach?

Three things that inspire me to teach are the different ideas and experiences that students bring to the classroom; the revelatory moments when students make connections between new and prior knowledge; and the sense of community that develops in each class.


Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Can you tell us what you will be teaching in the UBC Department of Asian Studies? What do you want students to gain out of your courses?

This upcoming term, I will teach Introductory Sanskrit (SANS 300) and The Sanskrit Cosmopolis: India and the World, 200–1500 CE (ASIA 370).

In SANS 300, students with no prior experience with the language will develop foundational skills over the course of two semesters to be able to read passages from select Sanskrit texts by the end of the year. In this and other Sanskrit courses, I want students to experience language learning as a dynamic and interactive process that goes beyond memorizing grammar and vocabulary.

ASIA 370 will explore the historical and cultural processes that made Sanskrit the language of politics, literature, the sciences, and other disciplines across South Asia and beyond during the first millennium CE. This term, the course will also spotlight interactions between India and other parts of Asia through a study in translation of Indonesian inscriptions and temple architecture, along with travel records of Chinese pilgrims to India.


What are some other interests you enjoy pursuing outside of your work?

Spending time outdoors walking and hiking are two of my favourite activities. I love the challenge of a steep uphill climb and the reward of a spectacular view at the summit. I also enjoy eating and learning about different food cultures. This interest inspired me to teach a courses on representations of food, eating, and the kitchen in South Asian literature while at Berkeley. When I’m not on hiking trails or at local restaurants on the weekends, you might find me riding my bike, absorbed in a novel, or knitting while listening to a podcast.


Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California