Pierre-Julien Harter

“The Role of the Path in Gnoseology of the Abhisamayālamkāra Literature”

My research is quite isolated, even in my own field, so I hope that the Martin Marty Seminar will be a place where I will be able to “break the wall of specialization” to reach out to other students, professors, and non-specialists. As an apprentice-philosopher, it is my conviction that philosophical discourse should not belong exclusively to a small group of people with their own private language, understanding each other even before laying the problems and answers they provide. To be properly philosophical, a set of texts or ideas should possess some sort of (potential) universality which makes them accessible to any good-willing soul wanting to sustain a conversation on the subject. Hence I am looking forward to test the philosophical dimension of the texts I am working on by discussing them with the Fellows of the seminar.

I have been working on the Indo-Tibetan corpus of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (The Ornament of Realizations), constituted by scholastic commentaries, ranging from the VIth century C.E. to the present day, which focus on the different stages of progress an individual makes on the Buddhist Path until one reaches Buddhahood. Parallel ideas of Path and progress can be found in several religious and philosophical traditions, and I hope other participants in the seminar can help me by providing elements of comparison. From a more general perspective, I believe that these texts can make us reflect upon the nature of learning and what knowledge can mean, questions that are deeply intertwined with the epistemological and soteriological frameworks of such intellectual traditions. But I think the richness of the seminar also lies in the part that is not directly related to my research, and I really look forward to listening to and discussing topics totally unrelated to my dissertation – a good scholar to be should never lose curiosity for matters that are not a part of one’s field!

I am returning to Chicago this Fall after a whole summer spent in Nepal working with Tibetan scholars on Tibetan commentaries and thanks to the major progress I made there, I expect that this year I will complete the technical chapters dealing specifically with the soteriological and cognitive structures of the Buddhist Path, as well as the more comparative chapters dealing with the notion of Path in other philosophical or religious traditions. I fully expect the seminar to facilitate the back and forth movement between those two approaches.

Philosophy of Religions