Doctoral Student Workshop
Creating networks to support the next generation of Buddhist academics
Representing the KF Academic Committee, Co-Chair Sydney Jay recently had a chance to witness in person the enthusiasm with which Khyentse Foundation grant awardees are pursuing their studies. From April 28–30 this year, 12 recipients of KF’s Doctoral Student Support Program met to discuss their research projects at a residential workshop hosted by Northwestern University. The event followed 18 months of Zoom presentations by noted Buddhist scholars as part of the Khyentse Foundation Buddhist Studies Lecture Series at the university.
The participants found the workshop stimulating and helpful, and we hope that another will be held in 2024. In addition to current recipients of the KF Doctoral Student Support grants, attendees included students who have received support from KF in the past and graduate students in Religious and Buddhist Studies at Northwestern. Also present and offering feedback on the presentations were two professors of Buddhist Studies. Professor Janet Gyatso, of Harvard Divinity School, delivered the keynote address on the first evening of the workshop. She is a specialist in Buddhist studies with concentration on Tibetan and South Asian cultural and intellectual history. Professor Sarah H. Jacoby of Northwestern University spearheaded the lecture series and the workshop.
The aim behind the lectures and in-person event is to help doctoral students develop a peer group of Buddhist academics to last throughout their careers. The grant recipients are from diverse academic institutions and countries. These include the University of Arizona, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), Leiden University (the Netherlands), McMaster University (Canada), Northwestern University, the University of Naples “L’Orientale” (Italy), and the University of Sydney (Australia).
Over the 2-day workshop each participant had 10 minutes to present their current research. The talks were followed by a 40-minute feedback and discussion period, enabling a fruitful exchange of information and ideas.
Above: KF doctoral award recipient Khenpo Yeshi of UC Berkeley at the workshop
The participants’ research covers a vast range of topics, including:
- Issues surrounding the ordination of Buddhist monastic women as raised by 60 contemporary Tibetan nuns, interviewed in the Himalayan regions of India.
- Atiyoga or Dzogchen, focusing on the development of the 11 topics of the Heart Essence tradition in the works of Longchenpa.
- The establishment of compelling evidence that Chan Buddhism became more open and inclusive from the 11th to 13th century in Song dynasty China through the narratives identifying nirmanakayas in the historiographical works of Chan Buddhism.
- An examination of how new types of preliminary practices, such as sngon ‘gro (Ngöndro), contributed to the elevated status of the lama in 12th-century Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
- A study of artifacts enshrined in Japanese Buddhist sculptures, their religious contexts, and how they help our understanding of Japanese Buddhism.
- Sectarianism in Tibetan Buddhism and the Rimé movement of the 19th century.
- Khandro Dechen Wangmo’s portrayal of the consort relationship between herself and her consort, Sang-ngak Lingpa.
The students found the in-person interaction extremely useful, especially after such a long period restricted to meeting online. They appreciated the chance to hear about others’ work and their different perspectives. One participant commented, “It was particularly helpful to review our own work from these different perspectives. This brought my thinking to a whole different level.”
Some participants reported that they had developed strong bonds with their peers. “I feel like we have created a group of scholars that will continue to support each other throughout our careers.”
Janet Gyatso’s comments were particularly well received. “It was a generative and joyful event where there was deep kindness in giving feedback. It was evident that we all care deeply about all of us doing well. It was inspiring.”
The Khyentse Foundation Buddhist Studies Lecture Series at Northwestern University, a scholarly initiative spearheaded by Professor Sarah Jacoby, aims to create a forum for intellectual stimulation, dialogue, and community building among the international body of doctoral students and junior faculty funded by Khyentse Foundation and the contingent of Buddhist Studies doctoral students studying at Northwestern. The university has hosted 16 lectures so far on various topics in Buddhist Studies.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche kick-started the lecture series in February 2021 via a lively Zoom conversation with Buddhist doctoral scholars hosted by Northwestern University. Watch the recording of the conversation.