The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies offers an articulated set of fellowship and grant competitions that will expand the understanding and interpretation of Buddhist thought in scholarship and society, strengthen international networks of Buddhist studies, and increase the visibility of innovative currents in those studies.

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships provide one-year stipends for PhD candidates to devote full time to preparing dissertations. The fellowship period may be used for fieldwork, archival research, analysis of findings, or for writing after research is complete.

This program is made possible by a generous grant from The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.

Read more about this fellowship program.

Please note: affiliations shown are as of time of award. Please click on fellows' names for current information.

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Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

Kyle Peter Bond
Kyle Peter Bond  |  Abstract
Using literary, documentary, and art historical evidence from the 11th through 14th centuries Japan, I will argue that Buddhist ascetic practice was believed to generate revelatory dreams and visions. Irrespective of whether such visionary events actually happened, a plethora of accounts across a diverse range of genres and media make the claim that dreams and visions led to the creation of new texts, icons, practices, ecclesiastic lineages, and cultic sites. My dissertation will investigate accounts of such visionary events and the practices aimed at producing them in order to reevaluate the roles of ascetics and ascetic practices within medieval Japanese society understood a single social system.

, Princeton University  -  Asceticism, Visions, and Dreams in Early Medieval Japan

William Aidan McGrath
William Aidan McGrath  |  Abstract
At once Tibetan and cosmopolitan, theoretical and practical, Buddhist and secular—the early historical narratives of Tibetan medicine were shrouded in such controversy that, as Zurkhar Lodrö Gyelpo quipped, “in this snowy land of Tibet, as soon as three or more [physicians] get together… they discuss them.” In my dissertation I extend recent scholarship on the cross-cultural origins of Tibetan medicine to show for the first time that a single family of medieval physicians—the Drangti clan—created the narrative through which all later tradition understood the history of Tibetan medicine. By analyzing hundreds of newly available manuscripts, I offer critical perspectives on received historiography in order to better understand Tibetan medical thought in its formative period.

, University of Virginia  -  The Buddhist Narration of Medicine: The Drangti Corpus in Tibetan Medical and Religious History

Charles George Carstens
Charles George Carstens  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the historical process through which coronation rituals were repaired, theorized, and memorialized in Burma of the Konbaung period. These practices were central to a project of reproducing Buddhist principles of order, defined as schemes of power, purity, and auspiciousness that organize persons, objects, and places. These ordering principles pervasively structured Buddhist texts, practices, and institutions. They did not exist as an explicit worldview, but an intuitive feeling of where things “should be.” Coronation ceremonies stood as core practices, which calibrated other practices of Buddhist ordering principles. Studying coronation texts, and their associated Buddhist ordering principles, offers new opportunities to remap the field of Buddhist and politics.

, Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University  -  Mapping Power: Ordering the Cosmos through the Coronation Ceremonies of Konbaung Burma

Dagmar Schwerk
Dagmar Schwerk  |  Abstract
As the Mahāmudrā doctrine is the paramount teaching in all bKa'-brgyud schools, it represents a crucial point from which to determine the doctrinal positions and ideas of the Sixty-Ninth rJe mKhan-po dGe-'dun-rin-chen (1926-1997) and his school. A critical edition and annotated translation of a verse commentary by the Sixty-Ninth rJe mKhan-po dGe-'dun-rin-chen on a root text about the controversy on the Mahāmudrā doctrine, composed by the Ninth rJe mKhan-po Shakya-rin-chen (1710-1759), form the basis ofthe textual analysis of the Sixty-Ninth rJe mKhan-po dGe-'dun-rin-chen's Mahāmudrā interpretation. Additionally, rJe dGe-'dun-rin-chen's life and thought are examined on the basis of minor works of mainly systematizing and doxographical character included in his gSung 'bum and a hagiography which was written by his direct disciple and acquired during a field research in Bhutan.

, Universität Hamburg, Germany  -  A Timely Message from the Cave: The Mahāmudrā Doctrine in the Intellectual Agenda of the Sixty-Ninth rJe mKhan-po dGe-'dun-rin-chen, 1926 to 1997

Catherine Dalton
Catherine Dalton  |  Abstract
My dissertation focuses on the medieval Indian Buddhist yogin and tantric exegete Buddhajñānapāda, remembered as the founder of the Jñānapāda School of tantric theory and practice. Through an in-depth study of his oeuvre, I attempt to excavate the late 8th-century world of tantric Buddhism as it emerges in his narrative, doctrinal, and ritual writings. I focus, in particular, on the Dvikramatattvabhāvanā-mukhāgama in which Buddhajñānapāda uses autobiographical narrative and visionary revelation to frame assertions about the nature of reality and outline rituals that lead to its realization. Unlike much modern scholarship which examines narrative, doctrine, and ritual separately, I explore how Buddhajñānapāda employed each of these to articulate his vision of the tantric Buddhist world.

, University of California, Berkeley  -  Excavating the Roots of Buddhist Tantra: Buddhajñanapada's Vision of a Tantric Buddhist World

David Kerman Tomlinson
David Kerman Tomlinson  |  Abstract
This dissertation explores the relationship between the buddhalogical commitments of philosophers—commitments, that is, to what buddhahood is and how the path to it is to be traversed—and their systematic philosophical thought. In particular, I consider the unorthodox position in philosophy of mind of Ratnakarasanti (11th century), who defended the ultimate existence of contentless consciousness on the basis, I argue, of buddhalogical commitments developed in his enigmatic interpretation of tantra. This position is then juxtaposed with that of Ratnakara’s younger contemporary and critic, Jñanasrimitra, who defended the orthodox view that consciousness is by definition contentful in relation to a very different, non-tantric buddhalogy.

, University of Chicago  -  A Buddhist Critique of Intentionality: Enlightenment and the Nature of Consciousness in Late Indian Buddhist Philosophy

Justin W. Henry
Justin W. Henry  |  Abstract
This dissertation explores convergences in Sri Lankan Buddhist history writing with Hindu visions of the island’s past from the 14th century, with special attention given to the incorporation of Sanskrit Puranas and the Ramayana epic. The source of this increasingly accommodating perspective is sought in the religiously and linguistically plural courts of the island’s southwest in the 14th-16th centuries (Gampola, Kotte and Kandy). Intersections with the cosmologies and royal genealogies of Sri Lankan Tamil works of the same period are examined, revealing insights into Tamils’ own perspective on their historical relationship to Buddhists and Buddhist kings.

, University of Chicago  -  Distant Shores of Dharma: Religious Historiography in Sri Lanka from the Fourteenth Century

Sangseraima Ujeed
Sangseraima Ujeed  |  Abstract
The “Thob yig gsal ba'i me long” is a 17th century thob yig (records of teachings received) compiled by one of the most distinguished Mongolian Buddhist scholars of his times who is still celebrated as such today: Za-ya Pandita Blo-bzang 'phrin-las (1642-1715). The work, written in Tibetan, represents one of the largest and most comprehensive surviving examples of its genre. This dissertation critically analyses carefully chosen sections of the text to demonstrate the value of this work as an encyclopaedic authority of the Dge-lugs-pa dominated Tibetan Buddhist world of Central Asia in regard to religious history, religious interface and exchanges between traditions, major teachings, practices, transmission lineages, influential figures and important deities.

, University of Oxford  -  Mapping the Lineages of Tibetan Buddhism: A Study of the "Thob yig gsal ba'i me long" (The Clear Mirror of the Records of Teachings Received) of the Monk Scholar Za-ya Pandita Blo-bzang 'phrin-las, 1642 to 1715

Alexander O. Hsu
Alexander O. Hsu  |  Abstract
What are Buddhist anthologies, and what kind of work do they perform on Buddhist texts and their traditions? In my dissertation, I investigate the composition and copying of a seventh-century Chinese Buddhist anthology called _A Grove of Pearls from the Garden of Dharma (Fayuan zhulin)_ as a case study. I hypothesize that _A Grove of Pearls_ can profitably be imagined as a textual trace of what I call “practices of scriptural economy,” a mode of interpreting the written Dharma wherein Chinese Buddhist scholars reduced and re-organized multitudes of Buddhist scriptures to a supposedly more efficacious format. In tracing how Chinese Buddhists cut, collected, and copied scripture, I make clearer how they engaged with scriptural material and the difficulty of its abundance.

, University of Chicago  -  Practices of Scriptural Economy: Compiling and Copying a Seventh Century Chinese Buddhist Anthology

Trent Thomas Walker
Trent Thomas Walker  |  Abstract
Liturgical manuscripts illuminate how Buddhists at particular historical moments wove together the words of their sacred texts into living rituals. By focusing on leporello, or folded-paper, manuscripts featuring Khmer, Pali, and Thai texts popular in Late Middle Cambodia (c. 1650–1863) that continue to be sung today in a richly expressive style, this dissertation explores the liturgical, literary, and soteriological sensibilities of an era from which scant historical records survive. Leporello manuscripts, by virtue of their capacity to bring together various liturgical texts and annotate them with paratextual metadata, reveal the process by which Buddhist texts become Buddhist sounds in Cambodia. They shed light on how local genres of sung texts such as vows, paeans, manuals, sermons, incantations, translations, and anthologies work in concert for end-of-life rites and Buddha-image consecrations, and how these genres in turn articulate connections between Cambodian and Siamese liturgical repertoires from the late-seventeenth to mid-twentieth centuries.

, University of California, Berkeley  -  Buddhism Unfolded: Sung Leporello Liturgies from Middle to Modern Cambodia

Jeffrey Theodore Kotyk
Jeffrey Theodore Kotyk  |  Abstract
The present study establishes a chronology for the first substantial introduction of occidental astrology into China on the part of Buddhists in the eighth century, in particular Subhakarasimha and Amoghavajra, and argues that the subsequent widespread interest in astrology in China was enabled and encouraged by Tantric Buddhism. The resulting practical astrological texts designed for effective star worship and astral magic on the part of Buddhists are examined. The influence of these developments in Chinese society are identified and considered. The result of this study sheds light on hitherto unstudied currents of Eurasian cultural exchange which had far reaching influences in East Asian cultures.

, Universiteit Leiden, Netherlands  -  Buddhist Astrology and Star Worship in the Tang Dynasty

Sophia Van Zyle Warshall
Sophia Van Zyle Warshall  |  Abstract
This project documents and analyzes the corpus of Indonesian stupika -- miniature, clay, text-containing reliquaries of sixth to tenth century Sumatra, Java, Bawean and Bali. Specifically, this dissertation leverages the existence in Indonesia of texts less commonly found in stupika through the case study of the vimala uṣṇīṣa dhāraṇī. Reading these objects as artifacts of the process of cultural translation or localization, I mine this data to gain insight into the transregional and the local elements of religious life. This research contributes significantly to our understanding of the history of Buddhist doctrine and practice, together with the local diversification of religious ideology, of insular Southeast Asia during the final centuries of the first millennium.

, University of California, Berkeley  -  Translating the Buddha: Indonesian Reliquaries and the Vimala Uṣṇīṣa Dhāraṇī

Kwi Jeong Lee
Kwi Jeong Lee  |  Abstract
This dissertation explores ways in which Chinese intellectuals criticized and defended the Buddhist practice of icon worship from the fourth through the mid-ninth centuries. Analyzing logical and rhetorical tactics adopted by proponents and opponents of the Buddhist image cult, this study examines how the controversies over image worship reflected pre-Buddhist Chinese theories of the image and ritual, and permeated though the broader discussion of Buddhist icon worship. By doing so, the dissertation demonstrates that the acceptance of Buddhist icon worship into Chinese ritual culture was a result of constant contestation and negotiation among learned circles whose voices actively partook in the process of determining a proper form of religion for the state.

, Princeton University  -  Remaking the Image: Discourses of Buddhist Icon Worship in Medieval China, ca. 300 to 850 CE