The University of Chicago’s Committee on Southern Asian Studies (COSAS) will host a symposium on 15–16 November, honoring the life and work of the world-renowned scholar of Buddhism, Steven Collins. Collins died unexpectedly on 15 February while leading a seminar in New Zealand. The upcoming symposium will include lectures from leading scholars on a range of topics:
[The symposium] is not planned as a purely retrospective event. Instead, it is an engagement with the major ideas of Steve’s work by a representative group of his colleagues and students, from the University of Chicago and elsewhere. While the symposium can, should, and will involve opportunities to share personal reminiscences, it will also be an occasion for eminent scholars in the field as well as early-career researchers to reflect on the persistent foci of Steve’s scholarship – reconstruction of past forms of systematic thought, the historical study of world civilizations, and “the very idea” of a Buddhist religion – as they continue to catalyze and provoke thinking across the Humanities and Social Sciences. (Southern Asia at Chicago)
Collins was the author of several important articles and books on Buddhist studies. The best known of these were Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravāda Buddhism (Cambridge University Press 1990), which examined the historical and philosophical significance of the central Buddhist doctrine of anatta (non-self), and Nirvana: Concept, Imagery, Narrative (Cambridge University Press 2010), focusing on the literary and philosophical nature of the goal of Buddhist practice. His work bridged disciplines, drawing an enormous depth of understanding and insight into early Buddhist language and culture into conversation with literary, philosophical, and psychological dimensions.
He was a council member of the London-based Pali Text Society and authored A Pāli Grammar for Students (Silkworm Press 2006) and edited a compilation of articles on The Vessantara Jataka (Columbia University Press Readings in Buddhist Literatures 2016).
Collins was the Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He was chair of that department and an associate faculty of the Divinity school. Collins was trained at Oxford University, graduating in 1979. He went on to teach at Bristol University in England (1980–87) before moving to North America, teaching at Indiana University (1987–89), Concordia University in Montreal (1989–91), and finally the University of Chicago.
His colleagues at the South Asian Languages and Civilizations department there wrote: “Steve Collins was a wise and compassionate colleague who exemplified in his research teaching and service the highest ideals of critical inquiry and thoughtfulness to which the university aspires, in ways both profoundly serious and graciously humane. He did much to shape for the better the lives and work of his colleagues and students, and he is greatly missed.” (South Asian Languages and Civilizations)
Dan Arnold, associate professor of the philosophy of religions in the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, said at the time of his passing, “I will miss many things after his tragically untimely passing. May all who of us who learned from his exemplary intellectual engagement strive to continue bringing something of this lost clarity of thought to a world badly in need of it.” (U Chicago News)
Buddhism, Thought, and Civilization: a memorial symposium for Steven Collins (Southern Asia at Chicago)
Steven Collins (South Asian Languages and Civilizations)
Steven Collins, world-renowned scholar of Buddhism, 1951-2018 (U Chicago News)