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.

Allison Aitken
Allison Aitken  |  Abstract
This dissertation engages in a philosophical study of the anti-essentialist neither-one-nor-many argument forwarded by the eighth-century Indian Buddhist Middle Way philosopher, Śāntarakṣita, in his Ornament for the Middle Way (Madhyamakālaṃkāra). Undertaking a rational reconstruction of Śāntarakṣita’s thought utilizing conceptual resources from contemporary metaphysics, I argue that Śāntarakṣita’s neither-one-nor-many argument commits him to a kind of mereological anti-realism, according to which not only wholes, but even their parts are merely fictional unities. When this mereological anti-realism is understood in light of Śāntarakṣita’s account of the two truths, a dependence structure emerges that, I argue, represents a form of metaphysical infinitism. This infinitist view is then defended against foundationalist challenges and characterized as a virtuous, rather than vicious, regress. Finally, persons are taken up as a test case for this view, as I address the question of how this radical anti-foundationalist view could afford an account of moral accountability that is well-founded.

Doctoral Candidate, South Asian Studies, Harvard University  -  Not One, Not Many, and No Final Ground: Śāntarakṣita’s Mereological Anti-realism as Metaphysical Infinitism

Todd Klaiman
Todd Klaiman  |  Abstract
This study brings to light the late-nineteenth century pioneering introduction of Chinese monastic Buddhism to Malaya and its dramatic transformation of the socio-political and religious milieus of the Straits Settlements’ Chinese community and their evolving relations with China. This dissertation examines an important case of propagation, establishment, institutionalization, and perpetuation of Chinese Buddhist monasticism in Southeast Asia. My findings offer new insight into the modern interconnections and trans-regional religious exchanges between this monastic Buddhism in Malaya and Buddhist monastic communities in Fujian Province and later in Taiwan and their influence on Chinese Buddhist modernism.

Doctoral Candidate, Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong  -  Translocal Chinese Religiosity in Southeast Asia: Kek Lok Monastery and the Rise of Chinese Monastic Buddhism in Penang, 1887 to 1987

Ryan Damron
Ryan Damron  |  Abstract
In the early years of the fifteenth century, the young Buddhist monk Vanaratna (1384-1468) set out from his home monastery on the far-eastern periphery of South Asia and embarked on a period of travel and study that would span the Indian subcontinent and make him one of the most esteemed Buddhist figures in South Asia and Tibet. Active at a time when many scholars consider Buddhism to have been long-eclipsed in India, Vanaratna’s life and works provide us not only with an intimate view of an influential Buddhist pandita of great historical significance, but also with a surprisingly extensive and detailed record of an obscure yet vibrant period in the history of South Asian and Himalayan Buddhism.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley  -  The Last Pandita: The Travels and Career of the Fifteenth-Century Indian Monk Vanaratna

Hans-Werner Klohe
Hans-Werner Klohe  |  Abstract
Tying in with current art historic discourses on the genre of portraiture, which discuss changing concepts of identity, self and body as they are understood at different times and places, this dissertation investigates lineage portraits from the Tibetan cultural sphere and the tension between representing the transmission of religious doctrine and authority from one generation to the next, and the distinguished individual. The main topic is the visual conception of lineage teachers and the variations in their depiction. Diverging appearances of identifiable teachers in various lineage sets add a further dimension to the meaning and usage of portraiture in Buddhist art, and pose fundamental questions regarding the artistic configuration of historic persons in different cultural contexts.

Doctoral Candidate, Central Asian Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany  -  Between Buddhist Doctrine, Lineage and the Individual: Portraiture in the Himalayas, Fifteenth–Sixteenth Centuries

Jesse Drian
Jesse Drian  |  Abstract
My dissertation examines the religious imagination of Itsukushima Shrine from 1200-1600 to investigate the translocal networks involved in the production of shared knowledge concerning local Buddhist and kami deities. Taking Itsukushima Shrine as a central node rather than as the object of study, the dissertation traces how scholarly monks established connections between different deities and sacred spaces through the writing, circulation, and compilation of temple and shrine origin narratives (jisha engi) and encyclopedic anthologies about the gods. The dissertation shows how seemingly site-specific narratives and practices incorporated details about other gods and sites to emphasize their commonalities and linkages. Through these connections, Itsukushima transcended geographic boundaries and became a crucial part of networks of sacred space extending throughout Japan. Focusing on interrelations rather than a single deity, the dissertation approaches the study of the gods from a new perspective outside of binary distinctions between transcendental buddhas and local kami deities.

Doctoral Candidate, East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California  -  Networks of Space and Identity: Origin Narratives and Manifestations of the Itsukushima Deity

Elzyata Kuberlinova
Elzyata Kuberlinova  |  Abstract
In the early nineteenth century, Kalmyk Buddhism was incorporated in the multi-confessional framework of the Russian empire. A series of statutes and laws, engineered by the imperial government, aimed to transform Buddhism into an instrument of imperial domination. Although the incorporation into the Russian imperial system had a lasting effect on the nature and functioning of Kalmyk Buddhist institutions, I argue that Russian rule was a continuing process of negotiation between metropole and periphery. Not only the Russians exercised control over Kalmyk Buddhism, but the Kalmyk sangha also actively took part in formulating imperial policies and learnt to maneuver in the web of the imperial bureaucracy, seeking to achieve their own goals.

Doctoral Candidate, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany  -  Religion and Empire: Kalmyk Buddhism in Late Imperial Russia

Katherine Fitzgerald
Katherine Fitzgerald  |  Abstract
My dissertation argues that the Buddhism of female lay practitioners—often labeled animistic, pagan, superstitious, non-philosophical, shamanistic—is in fact constituent of modern Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism is a living practice that cannot be extricated from its relationship with sacred space, local deities, this-worldly concerns, and violence. In my preliminary fieldwork, I have observed that the practices and reflections produced by Tibetan Buddhist women are able to reconcile the simultaneously philosophical and pragmatic nature of contemporary Tibetan Buddhism. I use ethnographic data from Nangchen, Qinghai Province, PRC and the diasporic communities of Bir and Tso Pema, Himachal Pradesh, India, to argue for a definition of Tibetan Buddhism founded in female practice.

Doctoral Candidate, Comparative Studies: Religious Studies, The Ohio State University  -  No Pure Lands: The Contemporary Tibetan Buddhism of Lay Women in Kham and the Diaspora

Diego Loukota Sanclemente
Diego Loukota Sanclemente  |  Abstract
My dissertation explores the 3rd Century collection of Sanskrit novellas Kalpanamanditika Drstantapankti by Kumaralata in order to highlight the intersection between Buddhist faith and socioeconomic ideology in contemporary northwestern India depicted in it. A clear work ethic and the meaning of wealth being constant concerns of the text, I strive to evaluate these Buddhist attitudes towards work and wealth in the context of Indian Buddhism and Indian society. I also consider the historical context of Kumaralata and the larger context of the deurbanization of India, as well as a philological survey of the text in its various versions, and an attempt to place the work in the broader context of ancient Indian literature in terms of language, style, and literary lineage.

Doctoral Candidate, Buddhist Studies, University of California, Los Angeles  -  The Goods That Cannot Be Stolen: Mercantile Faith in Kumaralata’s Row of Examples Adorned by Poetic Fancy

Aruna Keerthi Gamage
Aruna Keerthi Gamage  |  Abstract
This project critically analyses divergent views of those labelled ‘vitaṇḍavādin’ by Buddhaghosa and the dialogic debates related to them that emerged on specific doctrinal points in the Pāli canon, along with his assessment of these views. This study looks at the hermeneutic devices developed by Buddhaghosa including his creative treatment of canonical sources. This study also uncovers important evidence for understanding Buddhaghosa’s attitude towards the “margins” of the Pāli canon by elucidating references to and categorizations of paracanonical and “apocryphal” scriptures in the Pāli commentaries.

Doctoral Candidate, Buddhist Studies, SOAS, University of London  -  Buddhaghosa’s Critique of Divergent Buddhist Views: A Doctrinal Study Mainly Based on Pāli Commentarial Exegesis

Tony Robert Scott
Tony Robert Scott  |  Abstract
In 1948, Burmese monk Mingun Jetavana Sayadaw (1868-1955) published his Milindapañha-aṭṭhakathā (Mil-a)—the only aṭṭhakathā on the Questions of Milinda (Milindapañha)—and the first composition of this genre in a millennium. An aṭṭhakathā is the most authoritative Pali exegesis, sensu Buddhaghosa and Dhammapāla, yet the nascent Burmese state confiscated the first edition of this extraordinary text in 1949, and allegedly passed legislation in response. This project uncovers how the controversy was ignited by the admixture of a nonnormative, perhaps spoken-form of Pali, the Mingun’s discussion of contemporary access to psychic powers (iddhi) and higher-knowledges (abhiññā), and his purported claims to attainments (paṭivedha) achieved through vipassanā meditation, which together maginified any textual or doctrinal claims in the commentary itself. I thus explicate the inside and outside of a modern Pali commentary, revealing tensions between orthodoxy, practice, and a state struggling to control both the canon and the public perfomance of arahantship.

Doctoral Candidate, Buddhist Studies, University of Toronto  -  The Milindapañha-aṭṭhakathā: Nonnormative Pali, Psychic Powers, and Control of the Canon in Mid-Twentieth-Century Burma

Catherine Anne Hartmann
Catherine Anne Hartmann  |  Abstract
Buddhist thought posits that unwholesome actions result from fundamental misperception of reality, and as such Buddhists have developed various practices—including pilgrimage—that aim to reshape vision. My dissertation explores such practices, concentrating particularly on how language and landscape facilitate these goals in Tibetan pilgrimage literature. To do so, I analyze three categories of pilgrimage literature: polemic texts from a centuries-long debate over the authenticity of a particular holy mountain and the value of pilgrimage in general, guidebooks written for pilgrims about the site's special features, and autobiographical accounts written by pilgrims. In each case, I ask how they approach the problem of training people to see the holy place's theoretically invisible wonders.

Doctoral Candidate, Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University  -  To See Directly: Vision, Place, and Writing in Tibetan Pilgrimage Literature

Guy St Amant
Guy St Amant  |  Abstract
My project reconstructs the history of Buddhist arguments related to the justification of scriptural authority during the period that begins with the activity of Dignaga in the sixth century and ends with the twilight of Buddhist intellectual production in mainland South Asia during the thirteenth. This period is of importance to the history of Buddhism as it witnessed the rapid expansion of epistemological and tantric text-traditions that arose in conversation with the comparable traditions of non-Buddhists. My project argues that epistemological engagement with Mimamsa, Shaiva, and other groups transformed Buddhist standards of scriptural authority and impacted exegetical strategies used by tantric commentators wrestling with a new corpus of texts. This dissertation illuminates further our understanding of these developments by tracing the history of Buddhist and non-Buddhist approaches to scriptural authority and by interpreting these approaches and their influence within the broader field of cultural production within which they developed.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Religion, Columbia University  -  Borrowed Arguments: Scriptural Authority and Religious Debate in South Asia, Seventh – Thirteenth Centuries