James Laidlaw took a BA in Social Anthropology in 1984, and continued with ethnographic research in northern and western India on the Jain religious tradition, graduating with a PhD in 1990. In 1989, he was elected to a Research Fellowship at King’s College. He was successively Assistant Lecturer, Lecturer, and Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge, Head of Social Anthropology and William Wyse Professor between 2012 and 2016.
His most recent research is on the Fo Guang Shan, a global Buddhist movement based in Taiwan. Publications include The Archetypal Actions of Ritual (1994), Riches and Renunciation (1995), The Essential Edmund Leach (2000), Ritual and Memory (2004), Religion, Anthropology and Cognitive Science (2007), The Subject of Virtue (2014) and Recovering the Human Subject (2018). From 2017 to 2022, He was one of the Directors of the Max-Cam Centre, a research project jointly funded by the University and the Max Planck Society, for the study of ethics, ritual and social change. The Max-Cam supported the work of a brilliant team of early career researchers, and hosted a number of workshops and conferences. Over the years, he have conducted ethnographic research in various parts of Buddhist Asia, focusing latterly on the Foguangshan (Buddha’s Light Mountain, 佛光山), a global movement promoting Humanistic Buddhism, based in Taiwan.