Sonam Kachru Religious Studies

Sonam Kachru

Assistant Professor

Gibson Hall, S-366 


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

Research Interests

I dream of a time when South Asian works of literature and philosophy will take their place in a non-parochially defined humanities curriculum.

To that end, 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 changes in paradigms, styles of reasoning, and systems of possibility over time.

My first monograph (forthcoming with Columbia University Press) is entitled Other Lives: Mind, and World in Indian Buddhism. It offers a new interpretation of the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu and the role of Buddhist cosmology 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 presenting the history of Buddhism in South Asia as a history of (sometimes competing) paradigms and practices of attention 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 once 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 Meditation
  • Is Buddhism True? (Advanced Undergraduate Seminar)
  • 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


  • What is it like to become a likeness of oneself? Gestures of Light, Motion and Mind at the Surfaces of Representation. Berlin: Forum Transregionale Studien, 2015. DOI: 10.25360/01-2017-00003.



In Press (Select)

  • “The Mind in Pain: The View from Buddhist Systematic and Narrative Thought,” in Maria Heim, Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, and Roy Tzohar (eds.). The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Emotions in Classical Indian Philosophy. Bloomsbury.
  • “Death and the Afterlife: The View from South Asian Buddhism,” Journal of Religion.
  • “Non-Presentism in Antiquity: South Asian Buddhist Perspectives,” in John Doody, Sean Hannan, and Kim Paffenroth (eds.). Augustine and Time. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Nāgasena! Once Again on Menander’s Questions and Nāgasena’s Replies,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies.

Published (Select)

  • “Of Doctors, Poets, and the Minds of Men: Towards the Varieties of Thought in Aśvaghoṣa’s Beautiful Nanda,” in Rafal Stepien (ed.) Buddhist Literature as PhilosophyBuddhist Philosophy as Literature. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020), 113-145.
  • “As If A Stage: Towards an Ecological Conception of Thought in Indian Buddhist Philosophy,” Journal of World Philosophies 5 (2020): 1-29.
  • “On Learning to Overhear ‘The Forgotten Poet’,” in Readings of Śāntideva’s Guide to Bodhisattva Practice (Bodhicaryāvatāra). Edited by Douglas Duckworth and Jonathan Gold. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019): 60-83.
  • “Ratnakīrti and The Extent of Inner Space: An Essay on Yogācāra and the Threat of Radical Solipsism,” Sophia 58 (1) 2019: 61-83.
  • “Who’s Afraid of Non-Conceptuality? Rehabilitating Digṅāga’s Distinction Between Perception and Thought,” in Jay Garfield (ed.), Sellars and Buddhism: Freedom from Foundations (Routledge, 2019): 172-200.
  • “After The Unsilence of the Birds: Remembering Aśvaghoṣa’s Sundarī,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 47 (2) 2019: 289-312.
  • “Of Dwelling With, and Getting to Know: Or, What a Medieval Variety of Irony can do for Contemporary Solidarity,” Indian Journal of Secularism. Volume 21, No. 4 (Jan-March 2018): 42-73.
  •  “Things You Wouldn’t Think to Find in One Place: A Quick Note On an All-too Brief Example on Life and Matter in Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam ad 3.14c,” Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol. 137, No. 4 (October-December, 2017): 669-678.