Originally hailing from southern California, Cole received his B.A. from Yale University studying History and East Asian Studies, both with focuses on modern China. After graduating, Cole time spent both in mainland China and Taiwan studying the Chinese language and becoming immersed in Chinese culture. Cole joined the Global China Center in the summer of 2008. He recently received a PhD in the Sociology of Religion from Notre Dame University. He will be joining the faculty of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou in the Department of Sociology in the fall of 2016.