Khyentse Foundation is pleased to announce the winner of its second European Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertations in Buddhist Studies. Christopher V. Jones of St Peter’s College, Oxford University, has been selected by the KF Dissertation Award Committee for his dissertation, The use of, and controversy surrounding, the term atman in the Indian Buddhist tathagatagarbha literature.
“It is a great honour to be the recipient of this year’s Khyentse Foundation award,” said Dr. Jones. “I would like to thank the judges for their kind words in response to my work. I am very grateful also to the supporters of the foundation, whose thoughtfulness and generosity are playing a vital role in the advancement of Buddhist studies across the world.” His thesis deals with the complex and controversial use of the term atman (“self”) in Indian Buddhist tathagatagarbha literature. The work is based on a close analysis of all the main available Indian sources relevant to this topic (either in Sanskrit or in Tibetan or Chinese translation), but is not confined to the philological analysis of these texts.
The US$8,000 award is presented every two years to the most outstanding PhD dissertation in the field of Buddhist Studies written in Europe, including the UK, during the previous two academic years. The dissertation must be written in English and based on original research in the relevant primary language, and it should significantly advance understanding of the subject or Buddhist scriptures studied.
Professor Stefano Zacchetti, Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oriental Institute, at Oxford University nominated the dissertation. The KF Dissertation Award judges offered this evaluation of the prize-winning dissertation:
This is a fascinating dissertation that shows the author’s competence in engaging with primary sources in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan. It is also meticulously argued, and systematically examines the development of the tathagatagarbha doctrine as atman not only in Buddhist doctrine, but also in the wider Indian religious landscape during the first half of the first millennium. The author demonstrates impressive linguistic skills, but also a keen analytical eye, and an exemplary clarity of writing and presentation.
Jones’ dissertation brings together a wealth of material from many different textual sources in order to trace a key aspect of tathagatagarbha doctrine across a wide range of literature. The research is based on Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan primary sources, and demands a very high level of language competence, as well as broad understanding of the background of the many texts used. The author’s own translations are provided where needed, and the work explores a number of less well known sources, as well as paying due attention to recensional variants where relevant.
In considering the issue of tathagatagarbha-as-atman successively in a series of key texts, the author produces an in-depth evaluation of the notion’s trajectory. The analyses that are provided within or that follow each textual discussion are incisive, prudent and convincing. Jones maintains his rigor and meticulous examination of different translations from the beginning until the end. The dissertation is thus a solid and needed contribution to research on the Tathagatagarbha tradition.
In sum, Jones’ dissertation is a very important contribution to his field and to Buddhist Studies at large. It is excellent philological research, connected to interesting philosophical and historical questions, and the committee is delighted to make this award to such a worthy recipient.
“I am incredibly grateful for the tuition and support of my two supervisors, Ulrike Roesler and Stefano Zacchetti,” said Dr. Jones. “Both have been exceptional teachers, invaluable mentors, and patient friends, without whose expertise this study would have been impossible.”
Khyentse Foundation sponsors a similar award for dissertations written in Asia. Accredited institutions that offer PhD programs in Buddhist Studies or Religious Studies in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are invited to nominate one dissertation that was completed during the academic years 2015-2017. Nominations will be accepted from October 1 through December 31, 2017.