Sonam Kachru Religious Studies

Sonam Kachru

Assistant Professor

Gibson Hall, S-366 


  • PhD, University of Chicago, Philosophy of Religions (2015)

Research Interests

My research interests lie in the history of philosophy, with particular emphasis on the history of Buddhist philosophy in South Asia. Topics of particular interest to me include the philosophy of mind (consciousness, attention, imagination), metaphysics, and philosophical anthropology. I believe the history of Buddhist philosophy in South Asia is best pursued keeping in view the long conversations of Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophers in South Asia; the importance of narrative thought for the history of ideas; and the possibility of changes in conceptual paradigms over time.

My first monograph (forthcoming with Columbia University Press) is entitled More And Less Than Human: Life, Mind, and World in Indian Buddhism. It offers a new interpretation of the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu and the role of natural philosophy in Buddhist philosophy of mind.

Since 2018, I have been working with Zachary C. Irving on a cross-cultural inquiry into the norms that govern attention. Part of that work was funded by 3 Cavaliers Grant (2019) and resulted in an inter-disciplinary conference. You can also learn more about the over-arching project here. I hope to complete a book on the Norms of Attention in South Asian Buddhism within the next two years.

Complementing the project on attention, I have begun a (very) long term project, "Practices of Self in Antiquity: Between Athens and Pataliputra," guided by the multi-lingual edicts of the Buddhist Emperor Aśoka in the hope of providing a new history of the practices and hermeneutics of self. We need an account of the vocabularies and practices that constituted a connected climate of philosophical culture and therapy in antiquity. We need, that is, a connected history which our current disciplinary and area-divisions conspire to occlude. I am working closely with colleagues specializing in Religions and philosophical traditions of the Hellenistic age in the Religious Studies Department as well as in Philosophy and in Classics. Some of that work was featured in the following conference. A preliminary sense of my interests in Ashoka may be found in the following essay, "Ashoka's Moral Empire."


Courses Taught

  • Introduction to Buddhism
  • Buddhist Scholasticism 
  • Buddhist Philosophy in South Asia
  • The Norms of Attention (With Zachary C. Irving)
  • Nirvana: Concept and Metaphor
  • Buddhism and Literature
  • Buddhist Ethics
  • Theory and Methods in Religious Studies
  • Thinking with Animals (A Seminar for Undergraduate Majors in Religious Studies)
  • On Polytheism, or All Things Shining (Freshman Seminar for Religious Studies Majors)

Selected Publications

(With Jane Mikkelson). “The Mind Is it’s Own Place: Of Lalla’s Comparative Poetics,” University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 88 Issue 2, Spring 2019, pp. 125-141. Special Issue: World Poetics and Comparative Poetics, (eds. Ming Xie and Jonathan Hart). 

"After the Unsilence of the Birds: Remembering Aśvaghoṣa's Sundarī," Journal of Indian Philosophy, April 2019, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 289–312

"On Learning To Overhear The 'Vanishing Poet'," in Readings of Śāntideva’s Guide to Bodhisattva Practice (Bodhicaryāvatāra). Edited by Douglas Duckworth and Jonathan Gold. Columbia University Press. 2019.

"Who's Afraid of Non-Conceptuality? Rehabilitating Digṅāga's Distinction Between Perception and Thought," in Sellars and Buddhism: Freedom from Foundations. Edited by Jay Garfield. Routledge. 2019.

"Ratnakīrti And The Extent of Inner Space: An Essay on Yogācāra and the Threat of Genuine Solipsism," Sophia. 2019.

"Of Dwelling With, and Getting to Know: Or, What a Premodern Variety of Irony Can do for Contemporary Solidarity," The Indian Journal of Secularism. Volume 21, No. 4 (Jan-March), pages 42-73. 2018.

"Things You Wouldn't Think To Look For In One Place: A Quick Note On an All-Too-Brief Example of Life and Matter in Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam ad 3.14c,"  Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol. 137, No. 4 (October-December): pp. 669-678. 2017.

"Provincializing Philosophy of Religions, and Beyond," Response to Kevin Schilbrack,Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A ManifestoSyndicate. August. 2017.

What is it Like to Become a Likeness of Oneself? Gestures of Light, Motion and Mind at the Surfaces of Representation.” Essays of the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. 2015.

The Meaning of Love: Insights from Medieval South Asia.” Available online at the website of The History of Emotions: Insights into Research. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for Human Development, 2014.

“The Last Embrace of Color and Leaf: Introducing Asvaghosa's Disjunctive Style.” Almost Island, Special Issue: On Style. 2012.


On the Buddhist Emperor Aśoka and his Ethical Vision: Listen Here

To cite: Sacred & Profane. Halvorson-Taylor, M., Schaeffer K. (Presenters), Kachru, S. (Guest), & Gadek, E. (Producer), “A Common Thread.” Sacred & Profane (2019, August 1)

Making Sense: With and Without Ends.

Talk delivered at Buddhism, Thought, and Civilization: A Memorial Symposium for Steven Collins, University of Chicago November 15-18, 2018. Listen here