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.

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

Zachary Beer
Zachary Beer  |  Abstract
The object of my dissertation is to trace the contours of secrecy discourse as it took root in Tibet between the late eighth and eleventh centuries. More specifically, I suggest that the *Guhyagarbha and its circle of attendant tantras, commentaries, and ritual texts defined the interpretive space within which Tibetans explored tantric secrecy. In these writings and their offshoots in the closely related world of early Dzogchen (Rdzogs chen), Tibetan exegetes began weaving together two discourses on secrecy—one sociological, the other epistemic—into a uniquely Tibetan form of esotericism. The collapse of the Tibetan empire, I argue, made this nascent discourse vital to the sustenance of Buddhist communities that found themselves newly detached from centralized authority.

Doctoral Candidate, East Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Berkeley  -  Over the Borderline: The Rhetoric of Secrecy in Early Tibetan Buddhism

Robert Alan Miller
Robert Alan Miller  |  Abstract
After ordination, monks begin a five- to ten-year apprenticeship (niśrāya), during which they live with and study under a monastic mentor. I will examine, through a critical reading of Tibetan language commentarial works, the way this apprenticeship inculcates a monastic habitus, which contributes to the formation of monastic identity and the transmission of monastic culture. I will also consider the emergence of a distinctive monasticism in Tibet and reflect on apprenticeship as a pedagogical modality in Buddhist monasticism by comparing the Tibetan presentation of niśrāya with Indian antecedents and its treatment in Vinayas extant in Pali and Chinese.

Doctoral Candidate, East Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Berkeley  -  The Making of a Monk: The Monastic Habitus and the Re-emergence of Monasticism in Tibet

Julia Heather Cross
Julia Heather Cross  |  Abstract
My dissertation examines Buddha relic worship in 13th and 14th century Japan. This period marks the first instance of relics magically appearing at Japanese temples and nunneries in vast numbers. Such appearances, I argue, helped to create a new and differently gendered religious geography by linking certain landscapes and peoples—e.g., nunneries, female monastics, and female courtiers—to this world of real and imagined relics. This change empowered certain nuns in ways that were almost unheard of while granting more peripheral temples and female monastics a promise of salvation. My multi-sited research uncovers this history through the study of chronicles, records, literary narratives, and surviving reliquaries and art surrounding relics at three temples: Hokkeji, Saidaiji, and Muroji.

Doctoral Candidate, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University  -  Relic Theft and Sacred Space in Medieval Japan

Katrin Querl
Katrin Querl  |  Abstract
Buddhists generally accept that the Buddha conferred a great variety of teachings according to the needs and capacities of individual trainees. The subsequent attempts of Buddhist scholars to classify these context-bound statements in order to reconcile differences and articulate rules for interpretation are categorized as “Buddhist hermeneutics.” One of the traditional hermeneutical tools is to sort the sutras, believed to be the words of the Buddha, into three “wheels of Dharma” (dharmacakra). This dissertation looks at the historical development of the hermeneutical scheme of the three wheels with a special focus on the works associated with the bKa’-brgyud-pa scholar ’Bri-gung sKyob-pa ’Jig-rten mgon-po (1143–1217) and his followers.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, Universität Wien, Austria  -  The Three Wheels of Dharma: The Case of 'Jig-rten mgon-po and the Single Intentionists as a Contribution to Tibetan Buddhist Hermeneutics

Eric Haynie
Eric Haynie  |  Abstract
My dissertation examines the seventeenth-century founding of Dzokchen Monastery in eastern Tibet, a Nyingma institution established at the confluence of the Tibetan and Chinese empires and at the intersection of all four branches of Tibetan Buddhism. I analyze the network of actors involved in Dzokchen’s formation to reveal the contending agendas that constructed authority there and to demonstrate that these political, religious, and personal relationships compel us to reconsider “sect” as an analytic term. Dzokchen’s emergence as specifically Nyingma was not preordained, and this project interrogates how competing notions of geographic and religious centrality shaped the invention of Nyingma identity. I show that rupture and multiplicity are endemic to Buddhist tradition making in Tibet.

Doctoral Candidate, Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor  -  The Great Perfection of Kham: Dzokchen Monastery and the Assembling of Buddhist Tradition in Seventeenth-Century Tibet

Emanuela Sala
Emanuela Sala  |  Abstract
My dissertation focuses on sanno shinto, a medieval discourse on the deities of the Hie shrines, near Kyoto, informed by Tendai Buddhism and linked to the main Tendai centre, the Enryakuji. My aim is to complicate our understanding of medieval discourses on the relation of deities (kami) to Buddhism: no comprehensive research exists on the sanno deities, despite their centrality in the Japanese landscape. I focus on the narratives included in the text called Yotenki. I assess the role of continental models, and address the problem of why kami identities are often multiple and contradictory. I demonstrate that these are constituted by modular strands of narratives, which could be adopted wholesale or pick-and-chosen. I reconsider the neglected role of shrine lineages.

Doctoral Candidate, School of History Religions and Philosophies, SOAS, University of London  -  Hermeneutical Strategies of Japanese Medieval Religions: The Yotenki

Mu-Lung Hsu
Mu-Lung Hsu  |  Abstract
“Funeral one time, monastery ten times.” This proverb not only reveals a surging interest among Burmese Buddhists in seeking soteriological rewards through funeral services. It speaks also to the significant role of Free Funeral Service Societies (FFSSs) -- organizations dedicated to social services for welfare of others (parahita) “without discrimination of race and religion” -- in transforming funeral services from a defiling activity into a popular merit-making practice. My dissertation argues that FFSSs are innovating a progressive, socially engaged Buddhist soteriology in contemporary Myanmar. Focusing on FFSSs, my ethnographic research explores how encountering and engaging suffering allows Burmese Buddhists to experience, imagine, and embody parahita as a practice for merit-making.

Doctoral Candidate, School of Historical Philosophical and Religious Studies, Arizona State University  -  Engaging Suffering: Free Funeral Service Societies and a Socially Engaged Buddhist Soteriology in Contemporary Myanmar

Anna Sokolova
Anna Sokolova  |  Abstract
The aim of this project is to explore regional vinaya monastic communities in Tang China. These groups are identified through analysis of epigraphic sources and contextualized within the religious and social landscapes of specific localities. It is argued that the An Lushan Rebellion of 755 caused significant depopulation in China’s imperial heartland and the mass migration of adherents of the vinaya tradition to the southern regions. The consequent dissemination of vinaya throughout southern China occurred in parallel with an enhancement of regional society due to an influx of state bureaucrats, literati and military men, many of whom engaged with their local Buddhist communities.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University  -  State, Bureaucracy and the Formation of Regional Vinaya Traditions in Tang Buddhism

Hyebin Lee
Hyebin Lee  |  Abstract
This project continues the modern scholarship on the transmission of Buddhism from India to China by focusing on one of the most important figures among the early Chinese Buddhist translators, namely Zhi Qian (c. 193-252 CE). His translation style is characterized as kaleidoscopic, as Jan Nattier describes, due to the high degree of diversity and variability in his language. By concentrating on his major works, this study investigates his lexical choices and stylistic features of translation, analyzing techniques and underlying strategies in the context of his historical and personal background. In doing so, it is hoped that this project contributes to our understanding of the Chinese Buddhist translation in general, showing the complexity and dynamics of Zhi Qian’s language.

Doctoral Candidate, Buddhist Studies, University of Oslo  -  Zhi Qian as a translator and his position in the history of the Chinese Buddhist translation

Upali Sraman
Upali Sraman  |  Abstract
My project explores how Vinaya (discipline) is taught to novices in their initial years of monastic training. It sets out to do so by examining 1) scenes of instruction of novices in the canonical Mulasarvastivada texts, 2) the contents of a key manual for training novices attribute to Nagarjuna with its commentaries, and 3) how this same manual is used in contemporary Tibetan monastic education. Supplementing the study of these texts with ethnographic research on Vinaya debates and summer retreats, my project centrally focuses on the embodied and relational aspects of teaching and learning Vinaya. I will also delineate the differences between modes of teaching Vinaya by a teacher in the classroom and a disciplinarian who overlooks novices outside the classroom.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Religion, Emory University  -  Bending the Body, Keeping the Mind Upright: The Pedagogy of Bodily Comportment in the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya Tradition Among Tibetan Monastics in Nepal

Seongryong Lee
Seongryong Lee  |  Abstract
I provide annotated translations of the Chinese Yizujing (義足經) (the Sūtra of Profound Meaning, T198) and its parallels––the Pāli Aṭṭhakavagga and the two fragmentary versions in Sanskrit (Hoernle, 1916) and Gāndhārī (Falk, 2011). Then, I undertake a cross-textual study of the four versions word for word. In so doing, I argue that the content of this rich textual amalgam spans from the pre-institutional stage of Buddhism to the incipiency of Buddhist institutionalization. I suggest that in the earliest phase of Buddhism, multiple contradicting ideas could have coexisted with little conflict and Buddhist compilers would not have yet had an acute sense of a distinctive Buddhist identity.

Doctoral Candidate, Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles  -  Neglected Witnesses: Reassessing the Pre-Institutional Thought of the Aṭṭhakavagga from Its Chinese Version the Yizujing (義足經) and Its Fragmentary Versions in Sanskrit and Gāndhārī

Sung Ha Yun
Sung Ha Yun  |  Abstract
This dissertation investigates the early formation of Won Buddhism by situating it in the larger socio-cultural and religious contexts of early-twentieth-century Korea, such as the emergence of indigenous new religions and Buddhist reform movements. It analyzes the texts, practices, and belief systems created by this new Buddhist religion by drawing on archival materials, such as diaries, personal essays, daily reports, and other written documents that testify to the actual historical voices of people’s everyday experiences and beliefs. It argues that new praxis and belief systems emerged as an ideological response to the crisis of Neo-Confucian state ideology at the turn of the twentieth century, providing tools that enabled common people to emerge as independent historical agents.

Doctoral Candidate, Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles  -  Making a “Congregation of a Thousand Buddhas and a Million Bodhisattvas”: A Study of the Formation of Won Buddhism, a New Korean Buddhist Religion

Zhouyang Ma
Zhouyang Ma  |  Abstract
My dissertation addresses one of the most significant histories of Buddhism in China and Inner Asia, namely the rise of Tibetan Buddhism in the Tangut Xia State (1038–1227) during the 12–13 centuries. In the formation of an integrative Inner Asian history, Tibetan Buddhism claimed its presence for the first time in a non-Tibetan state that practiced Sinitic Buddhism before, thus bringing about a series of innovative linguistic, intellectual, and institutional practices and laying down the foundation for the later Sino-Tibetan Buddhist complex. This project examines a large corpus of thus-far unstudied Buddhist texts written in Tangut script excavated from Khara-Khoto, including Buddhist ontology, epistemology, and historiography. This project, in general, contributes to our understanding of one of the remarkable Buddhist movements in history.

Doctoral Candidate, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University  -  Inner Asian Buddhist Revolution: The Rise of Tibetan Buddhism in the Tangut Xia State