You are here

Buddhist Philosophy Unit

Call for Proposals

The Buddhist Philosophy Unit (BPU) sponsors sessions that focus on specific philosophical topics, methodological issues, (a) recent publication(s) in the field (books, papers, etc.) or a classical text of particular importance. Sessions representing a diversity of methods to address a regionally-defined topic are also encouraged.

The BPU considers individual paper proposals, but mostly encourages thematically integrated panels. The BPU has a particular interest in panels that include graduate students and junior scholars as well as proposals that would be suitable for co-sponsorship with another unit. If proposing the latter, please provide suggestions for co-sponsorship when you submit your proposal.

The allocation of sessions for the Buddhist Philosophy Unit is either: A) One 2.5-hour and one 2-hour session; or B) One 2.5-hour and two 90-minute sessions. The choice of which option to use will be dictated by the number and types of panel proposals received. Either allocation allows an additional 90-minute session to be listed if co-sponsorship is secured.

During the recent annual meeting of the AAR the topics listed below were proposed. If you are interested in contributing to or coordinating a panel on one of these topics, please contact the person listed. You are also welcome to propose a panel or paper on any topic within the purview described above.

Topic: Round-table on Buddhist Philosophy and Philosophy Departments: Training
Students, Hiring, Teaching
Contact: Pierre-Julien Harter and Emily McCrea
Description: This round-table encourages us to think beyond the well-known problem of euro-centrism in philosophy departments to offer constructive and critical perspectives on training students to be hired by philosophy departments. We will discuss ways that programs in Religious Studies can better prepare their students to become competitive candidates for job offers in philosophy departments. The round-table focuses on the professional aspects of this issue rather than pedagogical or ideological ones. We are looking for people who can jump-start the conversation by proposing two strategies, one short-term and one long-term, to help students prepare for jobs in Philosophy Departments. We are not interested in participants reading papers, rather we invite participants to submit one short paragraph explaining their strategies. We encourage shorter presentations so that we can prioritize discussion among all those present.

Topic: Responses to Douglas Duckworth's Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy of Mind And Nature
Contact: Davey Tomlinson
Description: Douglas Duckworth’s recent book, Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy of Mind and Nature, discusses different streams of Tibetan philosophy that came into creative tension in their distinct approaches to the meanings and functions of Indian Buddhist concepts and practices. Scholars of Buddhism are invited to respond to Duckworth's book by exploring issues it raises for them in their own areas of Buddhist thought and culture.

Topic: Book Panel on Roy Tzohar's A Yogācāra Buddhist Theory of Metaphor
Contact: Joy Brennan
Description: This panel will consist of discussion and assessment of Tzohar's publication, out from Oxford University Press in 2018 and 2018 winner of the Toshihide Numata Book Award. The panelists will focus not only on assessing the philosophical implications of what Tzohar refers to as Sthiramati's pan-metaphorical theory of meaning, in which all language use is understood as metaphor, but will also include discussions of other important features of the book, including but not limited to its emphasis on the importance of cross-sectarian study of concepts in South Asian thought, its interpretation of a Yogācāra theory of inter-subectivity, its interpretation of the importance of the concept of subsequent pure mundane awareness, its proposal of and resolution to the problem of incommensurability between awakened and ordinary beings, and its new way of thinking about the meaning of mind-only.

Topic: Mind-Body Philosophy
Contact: Naomi Worth
Description: While Buddhist thought systems are typically seen as advocating oneness of mind and body, there are several intriguing alternatives to the Cartesian legacy of dualism from fields such as Buddhist medicine, Tantric physiology, Abhidharma, and so on. This panel brings together Buddhist philosophies on the relationship between consciousness or mind and the body. Recognizing that what is dualistic on one level may be held as inseparable or monistic on another, we invite an analysis of that tension. Papers might examine traditional and ancient systems as well as modern ones, and could invoke theoretical lenses that engage in discourse with contemporary philosophy.

Topic: Buddhist Philosophies of the Material
Contact: James Gentry
Description: This panel sets out to expand the boundaries of the Buddhist Studies philosophical canon by considering how Buddhist thinkers have reflected philosophically on the roles of material objects (relics, amulets, pills, statues, stūpas, places...) in Buddhist theory and practice. Papers will ideally feature Buddhist philosophical treatments of issues such as human/non-human/object/environment relations, diverse non-human agencies, extended or distributed personhood, mind-body/mind-world permeability and entanglement, and other related themes. Contributions that consider genres outside Indian Buddhist śāstra and its pan-Asian iterations are particularly welcome.

Topic: Deconstruction of Language in Buddhist Philosophy
Contact: Gereon Kopf

Topic: Philosophy in Buddhist Tantras
Contact: Vesna Wallace
Description: Papers would explore the ways in which Buddhist philosophical ideas are presented, reworked, and applied in Buddhist tantric literature.

Topic: Luminosity in South Asian Epistemology and Metaphysics
Contact: Alex Yannapolis
Description: "Luminosity" or "illumination" (prakāśa, prabhāsvara) was a centrally important metaphor for the nature of consciousness in Indian philosophy, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. This panel will explore how the metaphor of illumination was deployed and how it may be understood in the context of the great epistemological works of India and Tibet. While Buddhist philosophy is a main emphasis, proposals for papers dealing with non-Buddhist traditions are encouraged.

Topic: Religious Atheism
Contact: Michael Allen
Description: The session aims to challenge the notion that atheism entails a rejection of religion; it also challenges the notion of Hinduism as theistic. Papers might explore (a) Hindu/Buddhist critiques of proofs for God's existence; (b) Hindu/Buddhist arguments for the non-existence of God; or (c) the religious dimensions of Hindu/Buddhist atheism. We hope to have two papers focusing on Buddhist materials and two papers exploring Hindu materials (e.g., early Mīmāṃsā or Sāṃkhya).

Topic: Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness
Contact: Ching Keng
Description: This panel would examine issues related to Buddhist theories of consciousness: How does consciousness work to achieve cognition? How do different types of consciousness (the sensory and the mental consciousness) work together? Can more than one types of consciousness arise simultaneously? It is always the case that the sensory consciousness functions in a non-conceptual manner and the mental consciousness functions in a conceptual manner?

Topic: Buddhism and Animal Ethics
Contact: Geoff Barstow
Description: Papers on any aspect of animal ethics in Buddhism, including both historical perspectives and contemporary philosophical reflections.

Topic: Buddhist Aesthetics and Philosophy
Contact: Rohini Patel
Description: Buddhist philosophy exists within pieces that we may more readily categorize as literature or art and in modes of thought that combine the aesthetic with logical analysis. This panel will host papers who expositions illuminate Buddhist philosophy in its aesthetic modes.

-Topic: Buddhists Count
Contact: Alex Hsu (University of Notre Dame):
Buddhist literatures of every genre are rife with numbers. Buddhists count elements, arguments, sects, steps in a ritual, breaths, precepts, scriptures, beads, worlds, beings, distance, and the passage of time in the tens and thousands, or sometimes items are "beyond measure." Why do they do this? What units do they use? What happens when the numbers don't add up, or multiple witnesses offer differing accounts? Are there quintessentially Buddhist ways of enumerating, measuring, or scaling things? What mathematical skills do Buddhist texts cultivate in their readers? What facilities with numbers do Buddhist institutions presume of their members? And what, if anything, should scholars of Buddhism be counting next? Historical, philological, literary, philosophical, ethnographic, social-theoretical approaches all welcome. (Co-sponsorship with Buddhism Unit)

At the 2018 AAR annual meeting, the Buddhist Philosophy Unit steering committee decided to experiment with a regular re-examination of a basic topic in Buddhist philosophy. In addition to the topics listed above, we invite individual papers (or panel proposals) on the topic of suffering (duḥkha), the "back to basics" topic selected at our recent business meeting in San Diego. If you are interested in proposing a paper on this topic, please contact one or both of the co-chairs.

Persons wishing to organize a panel on a subject not listed above may also wish to contact one or both of the co-chairs.

Final selection of panels will depend on the strength of individual paper and panel proposals, a complementary variety of topics, and co-sponsorship (co-sponsorship allows us to have more panels and broaden the conversation).

Statement of Purpose

This Unit provides a forum for the scholarly study of Buddhist philosophical thought in its various forms across all regions and traditions of the Buddhist world. We seek to develop tightly organized sessions that deal not only with intra-Buddhist philosophical issues — such as those involving major philosophical traditions and major thinkers and texts — but also with topics involving the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and other traditions of philosophical thought, both ancient and modern. The Unit likewise provides a venue to examine the relationship between Buddhist thought and Buddhist practice. We encourage work on the full range of Buddhist philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, soteriology, ethics, and philosophy of mind.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members

Review Process Comments

The review process works well, but perhaps more effort can spent in follow-up after proposals are accepted (see comment below in Best Practices).