Sonam Kachru Religious Studies

Sonam Kachru

Assistant Professor

Gibson Hall, S-366 

Education

  • 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 (now available from Columbia University Press) is entitled Other Lives: Mind, and World in Indian Buddhism. It offers a new interpretation of the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu. You can read more about it here.

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 learn more about the over-arching project here.) I am working on a book (under advance contract with the University of Virginia Press, tentatively titled Attention: An Indian Buddhist Story). The book presents the history of Buddhism in South Asia as a history of (sometimes competing) normative paradigms of attention, exploring the ways in which one might think to evaluate mind and consciousness in the context of practices of self, keeping in view the difference it can make to (a) value imagination as well as observation; (b) distinguish being mentally present from attending to the present; (c) distinguish mind (structures and mental actions) from consciousness (and qualitative experiential textures); acknowledge the possible value in exploring the dynamics of spontaneous and unguided thought, and not merely seek always to attenuate the same.

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. The hope is to provide the materials for a new history of the practices and hermeneutics of self, an account of the vocabularies and practices that once constituted a connected climate of philosophical culture and therapy in antiquity. We need a connected history which our current disciplinary and area-divisions conspire to occlude. 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." I hope this work will allow me to explore Indian Philosophy in antiquity (before the schools, so to speak) in new and helpful ways.

Teaching

Courses Taught

  • Introduction to Buddhism
  • Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy 
  • Is Buddhism True? (Advanced Undergraduate Seminar)
  • Nāgārjuna’s Verses on the Middle Way (Graduate Tutorial)
  • Nirvana: Concept and Metaphor
  • Norms of Attention (With Zachary C. Irving)
  • On Polytheism, or All Things Shining (Freshman Seminar for Religious Studies Majors)
  • Philosopher Queens of Hinduism
  • Thinking with Animals (A Seminar for Undergraduate Majors in Religious Studies)

Selected Publications

Books

Monographs

  • 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.

Writing

In Press (Select)

  • (With Eyal Aviv and Bryce Huebner) “The Magic of Consciousness: Sculpting an Alternative Illusionism,” in Consciousness, Nature, and Ultimate Reality: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Bloomsbury. Edited by Susanne Beiweis and Itay Shani.
  • "The Dream argument.” For the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Religion.
  • "Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Nāgasena! Once Again on Menander’s Questions and Nāgasena’s Replies,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies.
  • Review. C. V. Jones. The Buddhist Self: On Tathāgatagarbha and Ātman. Honolulu, Hawai’i: University of Hawai’i Press, 2021. Buddhadharma (Lion’s Roar).
  • Review. Steven D. Goodman, The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening: An In-Depth Guide to Abhidharma. Boulder, Colorado: Shambala, 2020. Religious Studies Review .

Published (Select)

  • Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Human Being, Bodily Being: Phenomenology from Classical India, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Philosophy East and West 71 (3): 1-7 (2021).
  • “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, (London: Bloomsbury, 2021), 131-153.
  • “Death and the Afterlife: The View from South Asian Buddhism,” Journal of Religion, Vol. 101, No. 1 (January, 2021): 48-76.
  • “Non-Presentism in Antiquity: South Asian Buddhist Perspectives,” in John Doody, Sean Hannan, and Kim Paffenroth (eds.). Augustine and Time (Lanham: Lexington, 2021), 245-271.
  • “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.
  •  “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.

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