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Kurtis R. Schaeffer

Frances Myers Ball Professor

See: The Tibet Center



  • BA, Department of Religious Studies, Lewis & Clark College
  • BA, The Evergreen State College. Area of Emphasis: Buddhist Studies
  • MA, Department of Asian Languages and Literatures, The University of Washington
  • PhD, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University

Research Interests

I specialize in the narrative and poetic literature of Buddhism in Tibet, India, and the Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, and more broadly in the literary and religious cultures of Buddhism

For over twenty-five years I have researched and published on stories of the Buddha, Buddhist saints, and famous Buddhist masters of the Himalayas, and have published several books and over twenty  articles on the subject. Recently I translated a classic life story of the Buddha, the first major work of literature from Bhutan’s golden age of Buddhist culture to be published in English. ​The Culture of the Book in Tibet (2009) explores the lives of the great Tibetan religious figures who created the Tibetan Buddhist Canons. Himalayan Hermitess (2004) chronicles the life story of an extraordinary Buddhist nun who lived in the Nepal Himalayas. And Dreaming the Great Brahmin (2005) traces the many lives of the great Indian yogi Saraha through the history of Tibet. I am also the co-editor of the largest anthology of classical Tibetan literature in English, Sources of Tibetan Tradition, as well as co-editor of a large anthology on Tibetan History, The Tibetan History Reader. Many of my publications may be found on Academia. 

I also work on the rich visual narratives of the Buddha in Tibet and Bhutan. My collaborative Life of the Buddha project makes the largest narrative mural of the Buddha’s life in Tibet available to the public. Together with Andrew Quintman, the Life of the Buddha project combines art, literature, and digital humanities to make the most important Tibetan retelling of the Buddha's story freely available. A brief video describing the project can be found here.

Currently I work to enhance the role of the humanities in public life through efforts of the Religion, Race, & Democracy Lab, which I co-direct with Martien Halvorson-Taylor. Through the Lab we publish a podcast on the ways that religion shapes and is shaped by our daily lives, Sacred & Profane. Through The Sanctuary Lab, which I co-direct with Martien Halvorson-Taylor and Willis Jenkins, we bring artists, humanists, and scientists together to explore ways in which religious and spiritual connections to special places impacts our perceptions of the environment and climate change. 

I regularly conduct research in Bhutan, Nepal, India, China, and Tibet. I have served as President of the Buddhist Digital Resource Center, the world’s largest digital repository of Buddhist texts. From 2012 to 2020 I served as Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, and before that, from 2010 to 2012, as Associate Chair. 

Selected Publications 

  • The Life of the Buddha by Tenzin Chögyel. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Kurtis R. Schaeffer. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2015
  • Sources of Tibetan Tradition. Ed. by Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Gray Tuttle, and Matthew T. Kapstein. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2013. A volume in the Sources of Asian Civilization series.
  • The Tibetan History Reader. Ed. by Kurtis R. Schaeffer and Gray Tuttle. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2013.
  • The Culture of the Book in Tibet. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2009.
  • An Early Tibetan Catalogue of Buddhist Literature: The Bstan pa rgyas pa nyi ma’i ‘od zer of Bcom ldan ral gri. Kurtis R. Schaeffer and Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Oriental Series, 2009. HOS64.
  • Power, Politics and the Reinvention of Tradition in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Tibet: Proceedings of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Xth Seminar, Oxford University, 2003. Ed. by Kurtis R. Schaeffer and Bryan J. Cuevas. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
  • Dreaming the Great Brahmin: Tibetan Traditions of a Buddhist Poet Saint. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Himalayan Hermitess: The Life of a Tibetan Buddhist Nun. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Among Tibetan Texts: Essays on Tibetan Religion, Literature, and History by E. Gene Smith. Ed. with an introduction by Kurtis R. Schaeffer. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2001. In the Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism Series, a refereed series.