professor fascinated by stars, myths
Julius Tsai joined the religion department this year,
he brought much of his world experience to TCU.
When Julius Tsai was a boy, his family lived near the
San Gabriel mountains in California. He would go hiking
regularly, and his mother kept coffee cans for him to
fill with the rocks he would collect.
You could find fools gold and quartz,
he said. Id basically be staring at the trail
the entire time. You know how crows and magpies are attracted
to shiny things? I thought I would find gold and jewels
Once in high school, though, Tsai became attracted to
brighter objects. He became interested in the stars and
attended an astronomy camp near Madrid, Spain.
We would go out and lie on this hill and look up
at the constellations, he said.
He was fascinated by the stars and the myths that explained
their patterns, and entered Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania
as an astronomy student. He quickly found that astronomy
wasnt exactly what he wanted.
As I went on in college, I found that what I was
really attracted to was the mythical qualities,
he said. You have to ask, What is it about
this that really fascinates me?
Tsai found what really fascinates him when he got a minor
in religion to accompany his history major. He went on
to get a masters of divinity in theology from Harvard
Divinity School and a doctorate in religious studies from
Stanford University. In the fall of 2003, Tsai became
the newest professor in the religion department.
We use science the same way people used myths,
Tsai said. Were looking for an account of
the origins of everything.
Tsais origins are in San Francisco, where he was
born. He grew up in California, England and Germany. His
father is a professor who specialized in studying the
Bible as literature, and his teaching positions at various
universities allowed his family to see the world.
Moving around as a child was beneficial, Tsai said.
It gives you good insight and good skills for when
youre on your own, he said.
Eventually he returned to the United States for college.
Once he started his doctorate, he traveled out of the
While Tsai was working on his dissertation, which he finished
in December, he spent time in Taipei, Taiwan and California.
Tsai moved to Fort Worth in July with his wife, Anny Chuan,
who is pursuing a graduate degree in education at TCU.
We kind of just vaguely knew Fort Worth was in Texas,
When they moved to Texas, though, both were pleasantly
surprised by how pretty the city was and how friendly
the people are.
When hes not teaching one of his two world religion
classes or his upper-level class on Daoism and Chinese
religion, Tsai enjoys running or reading.
Our life is pretty quiet right now, he said,
In anticipation of a time of great busyness.
He and his wife are expecting their first child, whose
due date is April 23. Things are deceptively normal.
The religion department participated in the preparations
and held a baby shower for Tsai and Chuan.
Ive found everyone in the department very
welcoming, very warm and very intelligent, he said.
Its a good department for scholars.
But he admits that his first semester, fall 2003, was
rough. He was putting the finishing touches
on his dissertation, and it was his first semester teaching
The first semester here was really stressful for
him, Chuan said. Im glad that stage
has already passed.
Tsai has settled into his teaching now, though.
If you can make someone stop and think for a while
in a class, then youve done a good job, Tsai
said of his teaching.
He noted that religion class can often rock the foundations
of a students personal beliefs and faith.
When he was in college, he had professors who worked to
make a student question his or her view of the world.
The professors were always careful to help a student reshape
his or her ideas and not be left confused or stranded.
Through their entire person, they showed us how
to take apart our disillusions and then put together something
more enduring, he said. Everything about the
way I perceived religion had changed.
The evolution of his views was like a scuba class he took
in college: The students did a lot of work on land, but
once in the water it was completely different, he said.
Daryl Schmidt, chairman of the religion department, said
Tsai is helping his students grow just as he was helped
All indications from student responses are he has
a very accepting personality, Schmidt said. Theres
nothing judgmental about him, and hes genuinely
interested in helping students understand the phenomena