Michael Como

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

May 2021

Did Prof Como suddenly decide to not care? I took this class because I read the amazing reviews about his teaching. That's the problem: he didn't teach. The student-led discussions were a complete disaster. Its laziness obscured as pedagogy. He would speak for maybe 15-20 minutes at most per class--and most of what he says is either so simplistic or some dumb anecdote none of us care about. Don't take this class unless you want to basically pay thousands of dollars for a book club.

May 2021

Based on Professor Como's performance in Colloquium on Major Texts, I am confused by his silver nugget. While Colloquium on Major Texts is largely a student-led discussion class, Professor Como did only a sub-par job framing the issues found in the texts and guiding the students who ultimately led the discussion.

May 2017

I went into this class knowing nothing about eastern religions, so it was really cool to get to understand at least the basics of Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and the cosmology of Tibet and Japan, all through the lens of Tantra. However, this class was a little more difficult and intense than I would have liked (just because I was only taking it for a global core). To start, Tantra itself is super confusing (which is the point of having a whole class on it), which makes the lectures inherently complex and it also makes it really, really hard to find outside information to supplement the lectures or clarify difficult concepts (other than the assigned readings) if you have to miss a lecture or are just generally confused. Moreover, this class covers Tantra as it's seen in India, China, Japan, Tibet, and the West, and spans more than 3,000 years of time. This is really cool because it gives you a really good overview of important concepts across the globe and time, but it is really hard to see how it all connects, and to remember the important people/places/names, etc. The good thing is that the professors are aware of this, and try to make things as clear as possible in lectures and via handouts, and the TAs also grade things with the knowledge of how hard all this stuff is to remember. That being said, it was kind of frustrating to me that we couldn't get into a ton of depth and that I often felt kind of confused and lost. The topic, in my opinion, was pretty interesting, but not really mind-blowing; I never felt bored in lectures, but was not often amazed either. In terms of how the class functions, McDermott and Como are both great lecturers who express themselves with a great deal of clarity and do a good job of summarizing complexity down into something digestible. McDermott focuses on India, while Como takes on China and Japan; a TA named Guy covered Tibet. McDermott is really direct and focuses more on dates, names, etc., while Como likes to tell stories and is much more prone to wandering off. McDermott gives handouts every day of important terms (since otherwise they'd be difficult to spell) and images of artworks or cartoons. The professors do a great job, but because there are no slides for either of them and the only lecture materials are McDermott's handouts which are only used for referencing terms and images during lectures, I found that it is absoLUTELY essential to attend lecture and take copious notes. Otherwise, there is no way at all to reference anything discussed in lecture, which I found kind of frustrating. For example, I got docked major points on one of my essays because I misheard Como in lecture and wrote the entirely wrong phrase throughout my essay. I also think the class is kind of an awkward structure. There were 70-80 students in the class, so it was pretty much impossible to have a discussion; whenever questions were asked, they were almost always answered by the same 3 people. However, both professors still tried to have discussions, which I found not helpful. There is a mandatory 1-hour recitation every 2 weeks, which I rarely found helpful since there's just too much ground covered in 2 weeks to cover in 1 hour and still have a discussion. This class has a HEAVY reading load. I read the first few days' worth of assigned readings, but 95% of the time I didn't do any of the readings because it was just too much. I got through the class with an A- having almost never done the readings and doing each of the two essays the day before they were due, but always coming to lecture and taking notes and studying a fair amount. Take that as you will. The grading is fair/generous, and there is no midterm, only a final worth 40% of your grade, for which the professors offer a really helpful study guide. Ultimately, I'd probably recommend the class. If you want a super easy global core, this isn't for you, but if you want a decent sense of eastern religions with two great professors, then I'd probably go for it!

Sep 2015

Just echoing all of the other reviewers that say Como and McDermott are great. She's a bit more linear, he's a bit more freewheeling. They're both excellent lecturers and incredibly nice human beings. If you start to feel behind take advantage of their office hours, they're both very warm and helpful.

Jul 2015

Disclaimer: It is important to note that I am offering my opinion as a student that is from a science based major, was taking this course namely to complete my global core requirement and with little to no background in religion or humanities for that matter. With that being said I would highly recommend Professor Como to anyone that was either interested in East Asian Buddhism or needed to fill their global core requirement. For global core seekers Professor Como is a great lecturer and does a wonderful job of laying out the material in a way that emphasizes the key points which allow you connect the ideas. It was interesting to see that the development of a religion really is a logical progression once you understand the underlying factors that influence transmission of ideology. For people that are interested in Buddhism in general, Professor Como is extremely knowledgeable about the field(His wife's family is Buddhist and he will share interesting personal anecdotes which bring the material alive). When you begin the course he will tell you that one of his goals is to make the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar. I can say without a doubt that he works hard to deliver on that promise. As sad as it may be some teachers really do phone it in when it comes to their duties to educate their students, Professor Como is certainly not one of them.

Jan 2015

I completely disagree with the previous review. I'm a science major who was looking for an easy way to fill the global requirement, and I'm SO happy I decided to take this class. Como is such a good lecturer that class felt more like story-time than a college lecture. The workload is minimal. Readings throughout the semester were long but totally optional. The ~5 postings and vocabulary quizzes took all of 30 minutes to write/study for each. The final 10 page paper took a weekend to write. Oh, and the midterm and final were as low stress as midterms and finals get (the "head TA" gave all of the questions on the final in advance.) Attend lecture, take notes, and you'll be fine. And trust me, you'll want to go to lecture. This class is like one big story-time about East Asian Buddhism.

Dec 2014

I too read the amazing reviews here and signed up for this class. DON'T DO THE SAME MISTAKE ! The lectures are really boring which makes it impossible to stay focused and take notes. Without notes it is impossible to get a good grade in this class. So either type everything or make sure you have someone sharing with you his notes. The workload is just ridiculous, this class made me so miserable this semester. Every week you'll either have a one page paper to submit or a quiz and then a midterm, final and final paper.

Jan 2014

Summary: Buddhism with Como is pretty easy, interesting, and fun. It's a great class to take to fulfill the global core requirement. Avoid TA Dessi. Pro tip: show up to every class and take notes. Getting notes from a friend might suffice, but you'll probably get confused because the concepts get somewhat complex as he goes on, plus they build on each other. Como is funny and a fantastic lecturer. I came away from his lectures with a solid (very general and pretty novice, but nonetheless kinda legit) understanding of the basics of Indian, Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. Avoid TA Dessi. Seriously. Her bark is worse than her bite (grading), but she's just a pain to deal with during the semester. I've heard some other TA's are good: Jay, Su-Jung, maybe another.

Dec 2013

This is definitely the class to take if you're looking to fill a global core. Prof. Como's lectures were always really engaging and interesting. As someone who never really got a chance to study Asian history or religion, this class was a great survey class on Buddhism's rise in India, China, and Japan. He really tried to remember people's names in the beginning of the year and was almost always open to answer questions that arose. The midterm and final were both fairly easy. They consisted of a number of vocab from a list that was given to us beforehand and 1-2 essays. The grading can be pretty harsh though- I lost close to 20 points on the midterm for a few, very minor mistakes. My TA mentioned that they were going to grade the final partially on how much it referred to/engaged with the texts we read so I'd recommend you actually do the reading. Prof. Como and the TAs asked for feedback around the middle of the semester which led to more discussion meetings to go over the readings and lectures. I appreciated how quickly the TAs accommodated the demand for more meetings. In all, this was a really interesting class and I'd recommend it to anyone who hasn't studied Buddhism before.

Dec 2013

Como is a wonderful professor. Picture Bob Saget and Stephen Colbert combined into one awesome, Starbucks-drinking expert on Japanese Buddhism. He is hilarious, and very good at presenting the material covered in class, which is much more than you realize you're covering because he's just that good! I took the class to fulfill the global core requirement, as most probably do, but I also have a genuine interest in the subject matter, which helped. For those with an open mind, this class should be a piece of cake. The grading is not harsh at all, and the midterm was INCREDIBLY easy so long as you've been following along with lectures. Go to the lectures, otherwise you might get lost. In the event that do, try to borrow notes from someone, but he also provides a really helpful review of last lecture at the start of every class. The readings aren't all necessary though, I didn't do them all. My TA was also the best TA I've had at Columbia, but it's Su Jung's last semester here I believe, so sorry guys! Still, you should take this class. I really think you should.

Sep 2013

Wow, if Professor Como has a silver nugget what does it take to get a gold? In a semester where I only had great professors, he was by far the best – a large part of the reason I became a religion major. When class was over each day, I was consistently disappointed that I didn't get to stay longer – the material is fascinating, and Professor Como does an excellent job making it relevant and accessible without dumbing it down. He is hilarious, very organized, and absolutely brilliant and while he has high expectations, he gives you everything you need not only to do well in the class but to retain the information in the long term. I remember more from this class than almost any I've taken. I would encourage absolutely everyone to enroll – it will be pretty much the best decision of your college career. Also to the reviewer below me, if we didn't have to go to class what function would our professors even have? If you were hoping to spend more time on other subjects, ok, but you can't possibly fault the professor for making his job about actually teaching. Reading is supposed to complement the class, not replace it, and Buddhism is notoriously difficult to understand, which is why you take a class rather than just reading a book.

Dec 2012

SEAS students -- DON'T take this class. The amount of reading is unbearable and entirely unhelpful for the quizzes/exams/papers. The shear amount is enough to discourage anyone who is not fully committed. Next, because the reading is so ridiculous, you MUST go to lecture if you want to pass (another great discouragement for SEAS kids). Oh yeah, the lectures also happen to be unbearable. Lose-lose situation. Finally, the TA's sucked. Don't take this class unless you're actively seeking to lower your GPA.

Aug 2012

Professor Como is competent, charming and gregarious. His mastery of Buddhism in India, China and Japan is astounding. The course contextualizes Buddhism in India, China and Japan (Korea was left out). The course evidences that Buddhism is malleable. It is a seed planted in different cultural soils, and manifests differently creating many flavors of Buddhism. It is a rather sociological approach, and it works. Additionally, students are exposed to Buddhist dogma, tenets and the sutras, or the religious part of Buddhism. Como is an expert speaker, clear and concise. He also expediently and skillfully uses humor to rationalize some of the more complex ideologies. For example, the concept of interconnectivity was presented via a student's bagel. It took many people, in fact everyone, to make that bagel paralleling the concept that we are all linked to each other, and ultimately Buddha. Como does not take individual interest in his students, except in a superficial way. He will more than likely not learn your name, or chat with students outside of class. In situations like this, it is incumbent upon you to make a concerted effort to present yourself. Visit his office hours, he is exceptionally nice and appreciates your company. You can also catch him at coffee houses around campus. He is always amiable Como defers to T.A.'s for grading, so there is little use in complaining about a grade to the Professor. T.A.'s rarely if ever change contested marks. However, if they see you improve, your final grade will be fine. Do get to know your T.A. Some of them may not know the subject matter and are learning like you. This provides a great opportunity for you to figure things out with your T.A.. You do not have to be an East Asian Studies major to take and enjoy any of Como's classes. His class is accessible to all, which mirrors Buddhist mantra of reaching all sentient beings. Moreover, if you resonate with any of the philosophies, chances are you were a Buddhist in a past life (if you believe in that). I personally resonated with the concept that we need to detach from illusions that cause mental anguish. Let's just say I de-friended some people on facebook. Como's class is hands down the best course offered to fill a humanities requirement. It's not easy. Lots of readings, which are really useless, numerous quizzes, two major papers and a final, but it is rewarding and fun. If you take it, you may even become enlightened.

Apr 2012

Como is probably the most exciting, engaging professor I have ever had here at Columbia. He managed to keep me, a checked-out, second semester senior, in class and entertained with his dynamic lectures and fun stories. He really knows his stuff, and he wants to make sure you do, too. He gives an outline at the beginning of every class, he makes sure to answer questions before moving from topic to topic, and he makes sure that you understand how all the different facts and stories relate to one another. If you're looking for a global core class to take, you can't go wrong with Buddhism with Como.

May 2011

Take this class. Or any other class with Como for that matter. You will not regret it. Professor Como is an unbelievably engaging and clear lecturer who genuinely wants to ensure that the entire class understands the material. That also leads to the only minor downside, namely that he fields a lot of dumb questions from the whole class. But I digress. Como is the man. There are no two ways about it. The lectures are carefully outlined on the board and he intersperses his points with general humor and hilarious stories about his family. Story time with Como simply cannot be beat and takes the class from enjoyable to a must-take. He is easily one of the top three professors I have had and the workload was not difficult at all, making this a great choice for Global Core.

May 2010

This graduate seminar was very informative and quite enjoyable. There was significant reading due each week, and each discussion was led by two students. Professor Como usually stayed ou of the way and let us lead the class. The two leaders for the next week's class met with Professor Como at Starbucks on the Friday before class to discuss the readings and come up with questions about them, then these questions were emailed out to the class. Everyone was to post responses on CourseWorks by 5 PM on Sunday. The class focused more on spirits than on bodies, though you can't really separate the two here. We also spent most of our time reading about China, though we did go into Vietnam and Korea a little, and Japan for a few weeks at the end. This class was my first exposure to East Asian religions, and I made it through, though I do suggest taking other classes in East Asian religion for the extra background information. This would especially have helped me as I wrote the term paper.

May 2009

Professor Como is AMAZING. No one is better at explaining the complicated aspects of Buddhism. He is funny, genuinely nice, entertaining, informative, and knows his stuff. Unfortunately, the T.A. that was assigned to me was a bat from academic hell that must have gotten Cs their entire time at Columbia and seemed to intentionally try to make sure no one left Como's class with higher than than a C. That being said, I still don't regret taking Como's class. Neither will you.

Jan 2008

He's very nice and seems pretty approachable, but this class was often very frustrating. As someone with a background in East Asian studies, I wanted to learn far more about the content of the course--about religion. Instead, we spent more than half of the lectures going over basics of Japanese history, defining terms, doing rough synopses of what happened in Japan over the ages. Except that these explanations were less thorough than that you'd have received in Japanese Civ, and yet they took time away from thorough explanations of religion. It's more like we learned the historical bases of religion, such as what kind of movements there were, how they were viewed by society, how they interacted with the government... But we didn't actually spend enough time learning about their theology, about WHAT the religions where about--just when and where they happened. It was a good and interesting enough class, but it still felt like an overview, and it left me wondering what I have to do if I want to take a class that stops being a brief overview of all of the history of the country and actually gets into the meat and substance of the matter.

Nov 2007

This guy is amazing! He is one of the best teachers I have ever had. His explanations of difficult subjects are so clear and understandable. I cannot say enough great things about him. I enrolled in the class to fulfill a Humanities and Cultural Diversity requirement at the same time. I would recommend the class just to experience such an incredible professor who knows how to teach. His comedy is excellent as well. Take any class you can with Professor Como.

Oct 2006

Just do it! Professor Como is why we come to the Ivy league. His encylopedic knowledge of his field/s is astounding. His lectures and seminars are truly arenas for the exchange and analysis of ideas and concepts in religion and history. His demeanor is fantastic and you will leave knowing so much more than you ever anticipated. It doesn't get better than this.