SOAS University of London

SOAS student Yael Shiri Receives 2021 KF Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies

19 July 2021

Yael Shiri of the Department of Religions and Philosophies, School of History, has won the 2021 Khyentse Foundation Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies.

Yael was unanimously selected by the KF Dissertation Award Europe Committee as the winner of this year’s award for her dissertation, The Śākyas in the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya as a Trope of Buddhist Self-Representation in Dialogue with the Religious “Other.”

Dr Ulrich Pagel, Head, School of History, Religions and Philosophies and Seiyu Kiriyama Professor of Buddhist Studies said: “The award of the prestigious and highly competitive Khyentse PhD prize is a wonderful achievement for Yael and testimony to the strength of Buddhist Studies teaching and research in the School of History, Religions and Philosophies.”

Shiri’s dissertation focuses on stories that are transmitted in the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya (MSV), composed between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE. The Mūlasarvāstivāda nikāya, which was one of the most influential Buddhist school in ancient India, disappeared from its native land in the 13th century. Its vinaya, which is an enormous and unwieldy text, is not available in its entirety in any Western language. By analysing such accounts, using narratological and philological methods, and in light of visual materials, Shiri aims to shed new light on the way in which these accounts reflect the historical circumstances of their authors and compilers. As her dissertation demonstrates, these monastic authors were in constant dialogue with other religious communities, predominantly brāhmaṇas. Rather than actual historical entities, the brāhmaṇas reflected in these stories are a Buddhist caricature of a group preoccupied mainly with issues of high birth and the aspiration for male heirs.

The award committee wrote that “The doctoral dissertation of Yael Shiri examines the emergence and transformation of narrative traditions regarding the Śākya clan (the clan of the ‘historical’ Buddha Śākyamuni), especially in the Saṅghabhedavastu of the MūlasarvāstivādaVinaya. Shiri argues that these traditions can be interpreted as reflecting understandings of the nature of the Buddha; his relation to the monastic community (the Saṅgha) and modes in which the authority of the Saṅgha is legitimated or buttressed; the motif and symbolism of royalty in application to the person and nature of the Buddha; relations of contestation and problems of legitimation in relation to Brahmanism as an important religious ‘Other’; and elements of the social and political realities that served as backdrop for the formation of the texts, especially in the Northwest under the Kuṣāṇas.”

Find out more about the winning dissertation on the Khyentse Foundation website