Short bio

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

Since July 2023, Rafal has been a Research Associate at the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Between 2023 and 2028, he is the Principal Investigator leading a research project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) studying Chinese Buddhist philosophy (CHINBUDDPHIL). He is concurrently an Associate Editor at the Journal of Buddhist Philosophy. Previously, Rafal was the inaugural Cihui Foundation Faculty Fellow in Chinese Buddhism at Columbia University, the inaugural Berggruen Research Fellow in Indian Philosophy at the University of Oxford, a Humboldt Research Fellow in Buddhist Studies at the Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies at Heidelberg University, the Soudavar Memorial Research Scholar in Persian Studies at the University of Cambridge, an Assistant Professor of Asian Religions at Hampshire College, and an Assistant Professor in Comparative Religion at Nanyang Technological University.

Rafal has also undertaken supplementary studies and research as an Exchange Scholar in the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University, as a Visiting Scholar in the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme at the University of Cambridge, as a Visiting Researcher in the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong, as a Visiting Fellow in the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute and at Bologna, Damascus, Tehran, Esfehan, Peking, and Fo Guang Universities, among others. He holds a BA with a double major in English and Philosophy from the University of Western Australia, a BA and MA in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford, an MPhil in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Cambridge, and an MA, MPhil, and PhD in East Asian Languages and Cultures (Religion) from Columbia University.

Selected publications


Buddhism Between Religion and Philosophy: Nāgārjuna and the Ethics of Emptiness
New York: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)

The Three Jewels: Essaying Buddhist Philosophy of Religion
Albany: State University of New York Press (forthcoming)

Buddhist Literature as Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy as Literature
Albany: State University of New York Press, 2020, xiii + 381 pp.

Edited Journal Issues

APA Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philosophers and Philosophies,Vol. 19, No. 1, Fall 2019. Newark: The American Philosophical Association. Guest Edited Special Issue: Buddhist Philosophy Today: Theories and Forms.

APA Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philosophers and Philosophies,Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring 2019. Newark: The American Philosophical Association. Guest Edited Special Issue: Buddhist Philosophy Worldwide: Perspectives and Programmes.

Selected Articles

‘Prolegomena to a Buddhist Philosophy of Religion’. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 94, No. 1. Dordrecht: Springer, August 2023: 63-89.

‘Tetralemma and Trinity: An Essay in Buddhist and Christian Ontologies’. Comparative and Continental Philosophy, Vol. 14, No. 3. London: Taylor & Francis, 2023: 236-254.

‘Contest, Game, Disgrace: On Philosophy and Buddhism’. Philosophy East and West, Vol. 72, No. 4, October. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2022: 1066-1088.

‘The Original Mind is the Literary Mind, the Original Body Carves Dragons’. Journal of Buddhist Philosophy, No. 4. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2022: 93-120.

‘Substantialism, Essentialism, Emptiness: Buddhist Critiques of Ontology’. Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 49, No. 5.Springer, 2021: 871-893.

‘Interreligious Relations with No Self: A Mystical Path to Omnilogue?’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 31, No. 4, October. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021, 721-741.

Abandoning All Views: A Buddhist Critique of Belief. The Journal of Religion, Vol. 99, No. 4. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, October 2019, 529-566.

Orienting Reason: A Religious Critique of Philosophizing Nāgārjuna. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 86, No. 4. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, 1072-1106.

‘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, 2014. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 207-238.

‘A Study in Sufi Poetics: The Case of ʿAṭṭār Nayshābūrī’. Oriens: Journal of Philosophy, Theology and Science in Islamic Societies, Vol. 41 No. 1, 2013. Leiden: Brill, 77-120.