Dr. Zürn's research and teaching interests include early and pre-modern Chinese religions, intellectual history, visual cultures, and intertextuality.
Zürn earned his PhD in pre-modern Chinese religions and thought from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. He taught for seven years as a graduate student at Grinnell College and in the University of Wisconsin system before coming to Wash U. His research concerns itself with various practices of embodiment in East Asia, the construction of powerful scriptures, and ritual theory. In his first monograph, titled Powerful Scriptures in Early China: The Huainanzi's Construction as an Embodiment of the Way, he explores how the Huainanzi (2nd century BCE) fashions itself as a powerful, textual embodiment of the Way (tidao), challenging standard interpretations that characterize this highly constructed text as an encyclopedic collection of philosophical treatises. Beyond these explorations in the construction of powerful textual artifacts, he investigates the impact of the academic division into philosophy and religion on our understanding of early and early medieval China. In his second book project, he studies the multidisciplinary and multimedia reception history of "Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream" as a means to critique the tendency in the field of early China to read this famous anecdote almost exclusively through the lens of epistemology, a reading rarely shared in East Asian receptions. He is also the co-founder of the international research project "Global Reception of the Classic Zhuangzi."
His teaching interests include life, death, and the afterlife in eastern religious systems, the relationship between ritual practice and thought, arts and religiosity, and understandings of sex, the body and gender in East Asia. His most recent courses include: Buddhist Traditions: A Material Cultural Approach; The Body in Daoism; Daoist Traditions; The Zhuangzi, A Daoist Classic; Confucian Thought; and Anime and Animi: A Popular Cultural Approach to Shinto.