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Richard Nance

Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies

Sycamore Hall, Rm. 221


Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2004

Research Interests

Professional Biography

I am a specialist in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and my work to date has focused broadly on Buddhism in India as practiced during the first millennium. I am interested in the ways in which doctrines inform, and are informed by, practices—more specifically, in questions of how protocols for teaching, learning, and interpreting Buddhist texts have shifted over time as these protocols have themselves been taught, learned, and interpreted.

My work draws its methods and concerns from at least three distinct academic disciplines: history, philosophy, and philology. It is historical, insofar as it does not attempt to provide an encompassing account of what a de-historicized “Buddhist tradition” says. Rather, it focuses more narrowly on particular times and places, to the extent that this is possible, and aims to offer a descriptive account of the normative assumptions that were influential in those times and places. My work is also philosophical, insofar as it rationally reconstructs these normative assumptions to show the ways in which they have provided—and can continue to provide—resources for sustained reflection on some of the guiding questions of philosophy. Finally, my work is philological, insofar as it excavates these assumptions via close inspection of primary sources in Sanskrit and Classical Tibetan, attending to the ways that processes of textual transmission in pre-print culture can serve to shape received texts.

My recent and current projects include studies of: guides designed to provide instruction for would-be commentators on how best to articulate the meaning of scriptural texts; the rhetoric of Buddhist letters to Indian kings; divergent traditional accounts of the so-called “four reliances”; the extent to which one can reasonably speak of a “commentarial mindset” informing the composition of Buddhist exegetical works in India; conspiratorial offenses in the Pali vinaya and norms for assessing culpability of participants in cases of theft and killing; the philosophical issues raised by Indian discussions of how and why Buddhas are to be made materially present via the plastic arts.


Courses Recently Taught

Publication Highlights


Speaking for Buddhas: Scriptural Commentary in Indian Buddhism (Columbia University Press, 2012).


“"Mindsets and Commentarial Conventions among Indian Buddhists," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 83, Issue 1, Pp. 210-235(2015).

“"How to Address Kings: Buddhist Letters to Indian Rulers," Revue d'Études Tibétains, 31, (February, 2015).

“The Voice of Another: Speech, Responsiveness, and Buddhist Philosophy.” S. Emmanuel, ed. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

Buddhist Hermeneutics.” Oxford Bibliographies Online (2013).

“Tall Tales, Tathāgatas and Truth: On the 'Privileged Lie' in Indian Buddhist Literature.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (2010, 2011).

Indian Buddhist Preachers Inside and Outside the Sūtras.” Blackwell Religion Compass (March 2008).

On What Do We Rely When We Rely on Reasoning?Journal of Indian Philosophy (April, 2007).

Review of Dan Arnold, Brains, Buddhas, and Believing

Review of Jan Westerhoff, Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Review of Joseph Walser, Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture (Columbia University Press, 2005).


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