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Christopher Coggins

Professor Chris Coggins in the field

Professor of Geography and Asian Studies


Liebowitz Center for International Studies

Academic Program Affiliation(s)

Areas of Specialization

  • Geography
  • Political ecology
  • China
  • Critical spatial theory
  • Nature conservation
  • Landscape ecology
  • Biodiversity
  • Property and land tenure


Research Interests: Rural land use and biodiversity conservation; animal geographies; sacred landscapes; historical geography/environmental history, property, possession, and personhood; Sino-Tibetan Borderlands; Southern China-subtropical cultural ecologies

Teaching Interests: Political ecology; philosophies and religions of East Asia; geography of nature conservation; critical spatial theory; property, possession, and personhood

Other Interests: Backcountry skiing, freestyle cross-country (“skate”) skiing, trekking, swimming, ultimate frisbee, soccer, kayaking, running, mountain biking, wildlife observation


PhD & MS, Louisiana State University
BA, Wesleyan University

Dr. Coggins’s research focuses on rural China, political ecology, biodiversity, sacred landscapes, protected area management, globalization, and property/possession. He has led students and faculty on eight trips to China since 1999, six of which have involved intensive field research. He is the co-editor of Sacred Forests of Asia: Spiritual Ecology and the Politics of Nature Conservation (with Bixia Chen; Routledge, 2023) and Mapping Shangrila: Contested Landscapes of the Sino-Tibetan Borderlands (with Emily Yeh; University of Washington, 2014). He is the author of The Tiger and the Pangolin: Nature, Culture, and Conservation in China (University of Hawaii Press, 2003) (runner-up for the 2003 Julian Steward Award for best book in environmental/ecological anthropology and nominated for the Kiriyama Prize in nonfiction). He is also the co-author of The Primates of China: Biogeography and Conservation Status — Past, Present, and Future (China Forestry Publishing House, 2002). He has published refereed articles in many geography, environment, and Asia-related books and periodicals. Since 2011, he has led teams engaged in a multi-year, mixed methods, field and archival research project on the fengshui forests of southern and central China. His work on the history of humans and tigers in China has been featured on BBC 4’s Natural Histories. Dr. Coggins has been teaching at Simon’s Rock since 1998.


Recent Media Coverage and Outreach


Current Research

2011–2018: With funding from ASIANetwork, The American Philosophical Society, and the Luce Foundation LIASE (Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment), Dr. Coggins has led teams of faculty and students from Simon’s Rock, Bard, Bard affiliates, and other colleges and universities in the US, China, and Japan in a multi-year field research project on the sociocultural and ecological characteristics, past and present, of southern China’s village fengshui forests. This is the first systematic multi-province research on these community-protected sacred groves, which are found in 10–14 provinces in central and southern China. Their publications are among the first English language works on this subject. The study aims to explain how and why the groves have been systematically protected for centuries; to map their present regional distribution and analyze their ecological effects, particularly in terms of biodiversity and local water quality; and to learn what local people, government, and other conservation stakeholders are doing to protect this remarkable legacy. LIASE funding also supports an annual student research conference on Asia and the environment, held each April at Bard College, and has provided a forum for students from Simon’s Rock, Bard, and other institutions to share their research results in a supportive environment.

Selected Book Chapters and Articles

  • “From Olive Branch to Olive Tree — Global Green Demilitarization and Ecological Civilization,” in Ecological Civilization, November 30, 2023.
  • “Human Activities and Species Biological Traits Drive the Long-term Persistence of Old Trees in Human-dominated Landscapes,” in Nature Plants. May 11, 2023. Li Huang, Cheng Jin, Yingji Pan, Lihua Zhou, Siwei Hu, Yanpei Guo, Yuanyuan Meng, Kun Song, Mingyue Pang, Hong Li, Dunmei Lin, Xiaoting Xu, Jesse Minor, Chris Coggins, C.Y. Jim, Enrong Yan, Yongchuan Yang, Zhiyao Tang, and David B. Lindenmayer.
  • “Local cultural beliefs and practices promote conservation of large old trees in an ethnic minority region in southwestern China,” in Urban Forestry and Urban Greening. Volume 49, March 2020, 126584. Li Huang, Lijuan Tian, Lihua Zhou, Cheng Jin, Shenhua Qian, C.Y. Jim, Dunmei Lin, Liang Zhao, Jesse Minor, Chris Coggins, and Yongchuan Yang. (2020).
  • “Biogeographic and anthropogenic factors shaping the distribution and species assemblage of heritage trees in China,” in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. Volume 50, April 2020, 126652. Li Huang, Cheng Jin, Mingming Zhen, Lihua Zhou, Shenhua Qian, C.Y. Jim, Dunmei Lin, Liang Zhao, Jesse Minor, Chris Coggins, Bo Chen, Yongchuan Yang. (2020).
  • “Co-existence between humans and nature: Heritage trees in China’s Yangtze River region,” in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. Volume 54, October 2020, 126748. Cheng Jin, Mingming Zheng, Li Huang, Shenhua Qian, C.Y. Jim, Dunmi Lin, Liang Zhao, Jesse Minor, Chris Coggins, Bo Chen, Jigang Zhang, Yongchuan Yang. (2020).
  • “Sacred Watersheds and the Fate of the Village Body Politic in Tibetan and Han Communities Under China’s Ecological Civilization,” in Religious Environmental Activism in Asia: Case Studies in Spiritual Ecology. Edited by Leslie E. Sponsel. Basel: MDPI, 2020.
  • “China's Community Fengshui Forests — Spiritual Ecology and Nature Conservation,” in Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in Protected Areas, Ed. By Bas Verschuuren and Steve Brown.  Authors: Chris Coggins, Jesse Minor, Bixia Chen, Yaoqi Zhang, Peter Tiso, James Lam, Cem Gultekin. Routledge (2019).
  • “Sacred Watersheds and the Fate of the Village Body Politic in Tibetan and Han Communities Under China’s Ecological Civilization,” in Religions Special Edition on “Religious Environmental Activism in Asia: Case Studies in Spiritual Ecology,” Edited by Leslie E. Sponsel 2019, 10(11), 600; 29 Oct 2019
  • “Fengshui Forests as A Socio-natural Reservoir in the Face of Climate Change and Environmental Transformation,” Asia Pacific Perspectives 15, no. 2 (2018).
  • “Fengshui forests and village landscapes in China: Geographic extent, socioecological significance, and conservation prospects,” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 31 (April 2018): 79-92.
  • “Conserving China’s Biological Diversity: National Plans, Transnational Projects, Local and Regional Challenges” in The Routledge Handbook of China's Environmental Policy. Ed by Eva Sternberg. NY: Routledge. (2017).
  • "Commentary Response to ‘Harmonious spaces: the influence of Feng Shui on urban form and design’, by Manuela Madeddu and Xiaoqing Zhang,” Journal of Urban Design 22, no. 6 (2017): 729-31.
  • “Village Fengshui Forests of Jiangxi Province” in Forests and Humankind 2014 (12) (Chinese/English).
  • “Animate Landscapes: Nature Conservation and the Production of Agropastoral Sacred Space in Shangrila” with Gesang Zeren, in Emily Yeh and Chris Coggins (eds), 2014, Mapping Shangrila: Contested Landscapes in the Sino-Tibetan Borderlands. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • “When the Land is Excellent: Village Fengshui Forests and the Nature of Lineage, Polity, and Vitality in Southern China” in J. Miller, D. Yu and P. van der Veer (eds.), 2014, Religious Diversity and Ecological Sustainability in the People’s Republic of China. New York: Routledge.
  • “‘We Work the Black Seam Together’ Ritual Politics and the Educative Ethic of Tending Delirium” (with P. Mabry), in Educating Outside the Lines: Bard College at Simon’s Rock on ‘a new Pedagogy’ for the Twenty-first Century, 2011.
  • “Village Fengshui Forests of Southern China — Culture History and Conservation Status” with Joelle Chevrier, Maeve Dwyer, Lindsey Longway, Michael Xu, Peter Tiso, and Zhen Li. in ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts Volume 19, No 2, 2012.
  • “The Fate of the ‘Lord of a Hundred Beasts’ in the Wilds of Southern China,” in R. Tilson and P. Nyhus (ed.), 2010, Tigers of the World: The Science, Politics, and Conservation of Panthera tigris. New York: Elsevier Press. View PDF
  • Refereed journal articles in: Asian Geographer, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Geographical Review, Journal of Cultural Geography, Policy Matters, Proceedings of New England — St. Lawrence Valley