Assistant Professor of Asian Religions
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 philosophical and literary texts from East, South, and West Asia. His primary field of expertise is Chinese and Sanskrit Buddhist thought, but he cultivates a complementary interest in Islamic thought composed in Arabic and Persian.
In addition to his degrees, Stepien has conducted further formal studies at Harvard, Bologna, Damascus, Esfehan, and Peking Universities, and has been a visiting researcher at Cambridge, Tehran, Hong Kong, and Fo Guang Universities, as well as the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies and Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Taiwan. Stepien was the Soudavar Memorial Research Scholar in Persian Studies at Cambridge, the inaugural Cihui Foundation Faculty Fellow in Chinese Buddhism at Columbia, and is currently (2016 – 2018) the inaugural Berggruen Research Fellow in Indian Philosophy at Oxford.
Stepien’s scholarship, ranging among topics as diverse as Chinese and Indian Buddhist philosophy, Chinese Buddhist poetry and literary theory, and Persian Sufi poetics, have been published or are forthcoming in peer-reviewed journals such as Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, Oriens, and the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, as well as in edited books from Oxford, Chicago, and Dialog. He has presented conference papers to the American Academy of Religion, American Philosophical Association, American Comparative Literature Association, Modern Language Association, Association for Asian Studies, and Australasian Association of Buddhist Studies, and has delivered invited talks at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Fo Guang Universities. His work has won major awards from multi-disciplinary institutions such as the Mellon, Soudavar, Cihui, and Chiang Ching-kuo Foundations; Institute for Religion, Culture, & Public Life; Modern Language Association; Association for Asian Studies; Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies; and Weatherhead East Asian Institute.
As the Assistant Professor of Asian Religions at Hampshire College, Stepien will concentrate his teaching on Buddhist philosophy and literature, though he looks forward to offering courses also in comparative religion, theory and methodology, Islamic studies, and beyond. He welcomes students from across the Five College Buddhist Studies Certificate Program, and looks forward to supervising Hampshire students’ Advanced Independent Study Projects in a wide range of fields.
How does the universe work? What is human nature? What is a good life? This course provides answers to these and other fundamental questions through an introduction to the religious traditions of China from their ancient origins to modern times. It begins with the oracular inscriptions of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and then concentrates on the three religions of prime importance throughout the bulk of Chinese history: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. We will read from foundational texts such as the Confucian Analects and Mencius, the Daoist Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi, and the Buddhist Lotus Sutra and Gateless Gate. We will also trace the historical development of each of the three traditions, including such movements as Neo-Confucianism, Celestial Masters Daoism, and Chan/Zen Buddhism. Attention will be drawn to diverse aspects of religious life in China, including cosmology, yin-yang harmony, ritual, ancestor veneration, monasticism, and gender roles.
This course introduces some of the major ideas at work in religious traditions throughout the world. It explores how three major themes - The Human Condition, Ultimate Realities, and Religious Truth - are understood in Chinese religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As a whole, this course thus provides a multi-cultural approach to some of the core ideas, texts, and thinkers of the religions practiced by most of the world's population. By studying religious ideas from various traditions side by side, this course also reflects upon what it means to engage in comparative study more generally, and how to go about forging comparisons in a sophisticated manner. As such, it provides students with a thorough introduction to both the nature of religion and to its study.
This course serves as a thorough introduction to Buddhism through the life, times, and teachings of its founder: Siddhartha Gautama; the Enlightened One; the Buddha. We will read a selection of the Buddha's own discourses - the original Buddhist sutras/suttas - from the Pali canon on themes such as the human condition, karma and rebirth, the path to liberation, meditation, and mindfulness. In the course of these readings, all the core teachings of the Buddha's Buddhism will be examined, including the four noble truths, the eightfold path, the middle way, dependent co-origination, no-self, and nirva?a. The Buddha's life story will be read in detail, from his miraculous birth and wanton youth through to his renunciation of worldly pleasures and eventual realization. We will also read about his previous lives (the Jataka tales), during which the eventual Buddha attained each of the ten perfections required for traversing, and teaching, the path to enlightenment.
This course provides an introduction to the philosophical literature of Chinese Buddhism. It is structured around the four major Chinese Buddhist philosophical schools: Consciousness Only (Weishi), Flower Garland (Huayan), Heavenly Platform (Tiantai), and Meditation (Chan/Zen). Readings are predominantly drawn from the domains of Ontology, Epistemology, Phenomenology, Philosophy of Mind, and Philosophy of Language. Buddhist topics studied include: Suffering, No-Self, the Perfection of Wisdom, Emptiness, the Bodhisattva Path, Expedient Means, Totality, the Three Truths, and Suchness. Classical primary texts such as the Lotus Sutra, Platform Sutra, Awakening of Faith, Demonstration of Consciousness Only, and Record of Linji are read, as are scholarly articles aimed at providing students with the historical and philosophical contexts in which the classical literature arose. The course includes an introduction to the Indian Buddhist philosophical background and the transmission of Buddhist thought from India to China.