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Dr Rafal Stepien

Berggruen Research Fellow in Indian Philosophy, Wolfson College
Wolfson College

Wolfson College
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Research Interests

Areas of Specialization

Traditions: Buddhist Philosophy, Indian Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy
Fields: Ontology, Epistemology, Ethics, Philosophy of Language

Areas of Competence

Traditions: Islamic Philosophy, Arabic Philosophy, Persian Philosophy
Fields: Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Literature, Philosophy of Mind


Rafal K Stepien is a scholar of religion, philosophy, and literature. His research is inter-disciplinary, cross-regional, and poly-glottic, ranging among Buddhist and Islamic texts composed in Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic, and Persian. He is a primarily a specialist of Indian and Chinese Buddhist philosophy, but cultivates a complementary interest in Arabic- and Persian-language Islamic philosophical and literary texts.

Currently, Stepien is the inaugural Berggruen Research Fellow in Indian Philosophy at Wolfson College, a full member of the Faculty of Philosophy, and an associate member of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. He maintains an ongoing position as Assistant Professor of Asian Religions at Hampshire College. Previously, Stepien was the inaugural Cihui Foundation Faculty Fellow in Chinese Buddhism at Columbia, the Soudavar Memorial Research Scholar in Persian Studies at Cambridge, and an Exchange Scholar in the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard. He holds degrees from the University of Western Australia, Oxford, Cambridge, and Columbia, in addition to which he has undertaken supplementary studies and research at Bologna, Damascus, Tehran, Esfehan, Peking, and Hong Kong Universities, among others.

Stepien has some dozen articles published or forthcoming in peer-reviewed journals and edited books on topics as diverse as Chinese Buddhist philosophy of language, Sanskrit Buddhist philosophy of knowledge, and Persian Sufi cultural and political identity. He has presented research papers to the American Philosophical Association & International Society for Buddhist Philosophy, Australasian Association of Buddhist Studies, American Academy of Religion, American Comparative Literature Association, and at universities throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. His work has won many awards, including from the Mellon, Cihui, Chiang Ching-kuo, and Soudavar Memorial Foundations; Institute for Religion, Culture, & Public Life; and Association for Asian Studies.

During his fellowship at Oxford, Stepien will be concentrating his research on Indian and Chinese Buddhist philosophy, with especial emphasis on ontology, epistemology, and ethics.

Career & Education

Professional Appointments

Berggruen Research Fellow in Indian Philosophy
Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK, 2016 – 2018
Full member, Faculty of Philosophy
Associate member, Faculty of Oriental Studies
Fellow, Berggruen Philosophy & Culture Center

Assistant Professor of Asian Religions
Hampshire College, USA, 2015 – Present (on leave 2016 – 2018)
School of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies

Ho Center for Buddhist Studies Postdoctoral Scholar
Stanford University, USA, 2015 – 2017 (declined)
Inaugural recipient of fellowship awarded once every two years to a single scholar in all fields of Buddhist studies who is up to five years out from completion of the Ph.D.


M.A., M.Phil. & Ph.D. Columbia University (2009 - 2015)
East Asian Languages and Cultures ~ Religion
Inaugural Cihui Foundation Faculty Fellow in Chinese Buddhism

M.Phil. Robinson College, University of Cambridge (Distinction) (2008 – 2009)
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies ~ Persian
Soudavar Memorial Research Scholar in Persian Studies

B.A. & M.A. Institute for Chinese Studies & Wadham College, University of Oxford (2004 – 2008)
Oriental Studies ~ Chinese

B.A. University of Western Australia (1996 – 1999)
Double Major in English and Philosophy
S. A. Grave Prize in Philosophy



  1. Twelve Gates to the Middle Way: Buddhism between India and China in Nāgārjuna’s ‘Twelve Gates Treatise’. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, ‘Classics in East Asian Buddhism’ Series, 2017 (under advance contract).
  2. Buddhist Literature as Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy as Literature. (under review).

Representative Articles

  1. ‘Catuṣkoṭi? Si Ju (四句)? Tetralemma? A Study of Hermeneutic Strategies in Sanskrit-, Chinese-, and European-Language Interpreters of Nāgārjuna (龍樹)’ (forthcoming).
  2. ‘The Original Mind is the Literary Mind, the Original Body Carves Dragons’ (forthcoming).
  3. Review of Lin, Chen-kuo and Radich, Michael (eds.). A Distant Mirror: Articulating Indic Ideas in Sixth and Seventh Century Chinese Buddhism (Hamburg: Hamburg University Press, 2014). Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Vol. 11. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, 2016.
  4. ‘The Imagery of Emptiness in the Poetry of Wang Wei (王維 699-761)’. Interdisciplinary Literary Studies: A Journal of Criticism and Theory, Vol. 16, No. 2. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014.
  5. ‘Rūmī, Balkhī, Mevlevī: The Ambiguities of Identity in the Poetry of Jālāl al-Dīn Muḥammad (1207-1272 CE)’. Michałak, Mirosław and Zaborowska. Magdalena (eds.). In Quest of Identity: Studies on the Persianate World. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Akademnickie Dialog, 2015.
  6. ‘A Study in Sufi Poetics: The Case of ʿAṭṭār Nayshābūrī’. Oriens 41.1. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

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