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. 

Rebecca M. Bloom
Rebecca M. Bloom  |  Abstract
My dissertation centers on a book and its related murals, which integrate text and images in ways unseen elsewhere. Composed by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, this book records his commentary on the monastic code, employing an innovative commentarial device: illustrations. When the book was transformed into a mural, these projects reinforced the Dalai Lama’s religious reforms for state protection. Over the next century, the mural was also painted at twelve sites in Tibet and India, becoming standardized. The commentary and its murals thus present an artistic genre previously undefined and an iconographic source-text unexplored. I examine this text’s genesis and contents, arguing that the book and murals established a visual system for portraying monastic life and transmitting monastic rules.

Doctoral Candidate, Asian Languages & Cultures, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor  -  Pictures to Live By: An Iconography of the Tibetan Buddhist Monastic Code

John Pickens
John Pickens  |  Abstract
The tantric Buddhist path of eleventh-century India was increasingly mediated by the figure of the guru. New preliminary practices (puraścaraṇa) prepared the student for the rarified encounters of initiation and esoteric meditation instruction. The more everyday foundational practices (ādikarma), meant for Buddhist householders, also emphasized the role of the guru. This dissertation project begins with an analysis of these two Sanskrit genres, then turns to the rise of preliminary practices (sngon ‘gro) in Tibet. The relevant ritual manuals reveal how innovative methods for worshipping the guru—such as the gurumaṇḍala—were first developed, then refashioned into larger ritual systems. The latter practices played a central role in the development of distinct Tibetan schools and their corresponding versions of the Buddhist path.

Doctoral Candidate, South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley  -  The Rise of the Guru in Eleventh- to Thirteenth-Century Indian and Tibetan Buddhism

Yi Ding
Yi Ding  |  Abstract
This dissertation focuses on the transformation of Buddhist public liturgies at Dunhuang from the eighth to the tenth century. It demonstrates that Buddhist ritual flourished in this period at Dunhuang by localizing the existing Chinese ritual elements, absorbing esoteric ritual techniques from Tibetan sources, and inventing its own liturgical traditions. Based on my own reconstruction of four major types of public liturgy (offering-making, sutra-chanting, grotto-related liturgies, and mandala rites) and an analysis of the liturgical system at Dunhuang, the dissertation examines the performative dimensions of the "divine transactions" that underlie the public liturgies and the structural transformation that happened during the course of three centuries.

Doctoral Candidate, Religious Studies, Stanford University  -  Sino-Tibetan Divine Transactions: The Transformation of Buddhist Public Liturgies at Dunhuang (Eighth–Tenth Centuries)

Karl T. Schmid
Karl T. Schmid  |  Abstract
This project agrues that vipaśyanā (insight meditation) as theorized by the eighth-century Indian Buddhist Kamalaśīla is viable according to contemporary philosophy, and is relevant to the ethical needs of our times. Vipaśyanā is depicted in Kamalaśīla’s The Process of Meditation as a technique for learning how to perceive in phenomena particular properties, such as emptiness. This training transfigures the practitioner's experience of the world, and develops her ethically by removing her morally dysfunctional dispositions (kleśa). Our ethical lives begin not with decision making, but with how we perceive the world. Because of this, in order to pursue a truly ethical life, we must first transform the dispositions that bias our perception. My dissertation analyzes Kamalaśīla’s theories on meditation, and draws on contemporary philosophy of mind, to show how vipaśyanā accomplishes this task.

Doctoral Candidate, Religion, Emory University  -  Knowing How to See the Good: Kamalaśīla’s Theory of Vipaśyanā

Meghan Howard
Meghan Howard  |  Abstract
This dissertation investigates religious exchange on the Silk Road through the work of a Buddhist monk known by the Chinese name Facheng (Tib. name Chos grub, c. 800–865). An exegete and translator from Chinese to Tibetan and vice versa, Facheng held influential positions in the Tibetan administration of Dunhuang and lectured at local monasteries. I examine how his participation in one linguistic community affected his work in another, arguing that Buddhism’s transcultural idiom—a universalist rhetoric shared by culturally embedded traditions (e.g., Tibetan and Chinese “Buddhisms”)—served as a bridge facilitating exchange. I thus explore the role of individuals in negotiating cultural exchange, critically examining the dynamic between local intermediaries and translocal traditions.

Doctoral Candidate, Buddhist Studies, University of California, Berkeley  -  Local Contact: How the Buddhist Monk Facheng/Chödrup Negotiated Sino-Tibetan Exchange on the Ninth-Century Silk Road

Andrew Steven Taylor
Andrew Steven Taylor  |  Abstract
My dissertation situates the teachings of Jamgön Kongtrül in the politics of nineteenth-century Kham in order to demonstrate that the egalitarian rhetoric of his so-called “Ecumenical [ris med] Movement” in fact belied a religio-political effort to preserve local practices and teachings from extinction at the hands of foreign aggressors. Though Kongtrül pays lip service to the value of all Buddhist teachings, he deploys a hierarchical system in his catalogues of Buddhist practices designed to privilege the Nyingma and Kagyu schools associated with Dêgê at the expense of the Gelug teachings of the invaders. I conclude with a theoretical discussion of how disenfranchised religious groups can use the language of similarity to preserve difference in the face of homogenizing forces.

Doctoral Candidate, Religious Studies, University of Virginia  -  Recovering the Lost Buddhism of Dêgê: Ecumenicism as a Discourse of Resistance

Jesse Robert LeFebvre
Jesse Robert LeFebvre  |  Abstract
Hasedera has long been one of Japan’s most important pilgrimage sites and one of the first temples to grant access to women. During the Japanese middle ages, Hasedera and many other temples struggled to find support and repeatedly encountered destructive fires. New religious movements also began to challenge the efficacy of traditional temples. In response, miraculous temple histories, images, and practices became unique assets. The Hasedera proliferation is among the most vivid responses and powerful affirmations of the divine in the face of destruction and chaos. In tracing the proliferation of Hasedera temples and icons, I will demonstrate how powerful patrons, mobile monks, co-governing women, and cosmological visions laid the foundations for a society underwritten by miracles.

Doctoral Candidate, Buddhist Studies, Harvard University  -  Hasedera and the Proliferation of Icon and Place in Medieval Japan

Yue Eric Tojimbara
Yue Eric Tojimbara  |  Abstract
This project redresses the common perception that Tokugawa Buddhism was either intellectually stagnant, or only narrowly characterized by advances in sectarian scholarship. Instead, I argue that the shared discursive horizons facilitated by print brought together Buddhist and non-Buddhist intellectuals in public scholarly discourse and debate, allowing Buddhist scholar-monks to engage in concerns central to the intellectual life of Tokugawa period Japan. I do so by providing an overview of the socio-economic contexts of the commercial publication of Buddhist books, before moving on to three case studies, each focused on debates between Buddhists and thinkers of new intellectual groups that emerged during this time; bakufu endorsed Confucianism, kokugaku, and merchant scholarship.

Doctoral Candidate, Buddhist Studies, University of California, Los Angeles  -  Buddhism, Print, and the Culture of Intellectual Conflict in Early Modern Japan (1600 to 1868)

Jue Liang
Jue Liang  |  Abstract
Although widely recognized as the most important Tibetan Buddhist woman today, full-length literary accounts of Yeshe Tsogyel’s life story did not occur until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. My dissertation, titled "Conceiving the Mother of Tibet: The Life, Lives, and Afterlife of Yeshe Tsogyel," asks how her literary tradition was formed during this time in the Nyingma Treasure tradition. It considers her to be one of the central characters in the origin narrative of Treasure tradition and argues that her posthumous elevation of status resulted from the tradition’s effort to trace its religious pedigree and define its authority. Her literary representations in the narrative in turn illustrate how sainthood and femininity are conceptualized by the Treasure authors.

Doctoral Candidate, Religious Studies, University of Virginia  -  Conceiving the Mother of Tibet: The Life, Lives, and Afterlife of Yeshe Tsogyel

Aleksandra Wenta
Aleksandra Wenta  |  Abstract
My project deals with the emergence of early tantric Buddhism in India and its transmission to Tibet through the lenses of the widespread and little investigated phenomenon of tantric magic across Buddhist and Saiva sectarian boundaries. My study will focus on the Vajrabhairavatantra, a seminal Buddhist Tantra who has survived to us through Sanskrit manuscripts, which have not yet been investigated. Apart from the establishment of a critically edited version of the text and the production of an English translation, my project will study the contents in the light of relevant sources outside the corpus, such as early Tantras like the Nisvasa, the Mañjusriyamulakalpa, etc., but also of sources within the corpus, such as the five canonical commentaries on the difficult points of the root-text.

Doctoral Candidate, Oriental Studies, University of Oxford  -  Early Tantric Buddhist Magic: Origins, Intertextuality, and Transmission of the Vajrabhairavatantra

Rebecca Mendelson
Rebecca Mendelson  |  Abstract
My dissertation examines modern Japanese Rinzai Zen reforms that contributed to the large-scale opening of Zen practices to non-clerics, which was essential to Zen's worldwide spread. I examine the historical shift between 1868 and 1945, during which dozens of lay Zen groups cropped up throughout Japan. After introducing the contours of this era's "Zen boom," I focus on three contrasting case studies of lay Rinzai organizations, each of which illustrates a distinct aspect of the movement: Kozengokokukai, Shakamunikai, and the temple Engakuji's Kojirin. Through these groups' stories, I show how modern reforms moved Rinzai Zen out of the temple, popularized practices including koan training, and contributed to Zen’s transformation into Japan's most influential religious export.

Doctoral Candidate, Religious Studies, Duke University  -  Democratizing Zen: Reform and Innovation in Modern Japanese Rinzai (1868 to 1945)