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Faculty Directory

Dessislava Vendova

Postdoctoral Fellow in East Asian Art and Religion

Consortial Faculty
At the GTU since
(510) 649-2470

Dessi earned her PhD, MPhil and MA degrees in Religion (Buddhism) from Columbia University and specializes in early Indian and premodern Chinese Buddhism and art. Before her doctoral studies at Columbia University, Dessi spent eleven years studying and living in China and Japan. Enrolled in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of Peking University, in July 2006 she received a BA in Chinese Language and Literature, and in July 2009, an MA degree in Classical Chinese Literature specializing in the pre-Tang and Tang dynasty literature, religion and culture. After her graduation from Peking University, and funded by a Japanese Government Research Student Scholarship, Dessi went on to live in Kyoto, Japan as a research student at Kyoto University.

Dessi’s current research project is an interdisciplinary study linking Buddhist studies, Buddhist narrative texts, art history, and archaeology and re-examines the life of the Buddha in Indian, Central Asian and Chinese Buddhist narratives and art. Her dissertation, “The Great Life of the Body of Buddha: Re-examination and Re-assessment of the Images and Narratives of the Life of Buddha Shakyamuni,” bridges disciplinary boundaries by bringing together evidence from the fields of Buddhist studies, literature, art and archaeology.

Dessi’s research relies on diverse sources: early Buddhist canonical sources, the earliest textual versions of the extended story of the Buddha’s life, art historical and archaeological material remains from early stupa sites and cave temples in India, Central Asia and China. As much of Dessi research is objects-based, relying on physical art historical and archaeological evidence, fieldwork at excavated sites and museum collections in India, China, in the US and abroad was as important as the research of texts. Dessi’s 2018-2019 residency as a fellow at the Department of Asian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art provided further opportunity to closely study and research objects from the Met’s collections related to her research.

In addition to the one year resident fellowship at the Met, Dessi’s research has received support from the Mellon Foundation, the Nippon Foundation, the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, the Cihui Buddhist Foundation in Chinese Buddhist Studies, the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), the Tianzhu Foundation, and Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute, among others.

In terms of future research, and inspired by her current project, Dessi will also be moving on to a second book-length project, “Trees in the Life of the Buddha.” This research, similar to her current one, will continue to bridge disciplinary and regional boundaries and explore both textual and visual material related to religious practice connected with tree worship, the presence of trees, tree shrines, tree spirits, and other tree deities in both early Buddhist texts and art.

Among Dessi’s personal hobbies and interests are photography (landscapes, Buddhist sites and gardens), mountain hiking, Chinese calligraphy, and Japanese flower arrangement (ikebana).

Degrees and Certifications

Ph.D., Religion (Buddhism), Columbia University, 2020

M.Phil., Religion (Buddhism), Columbia University, 2016

M.A., Religion (Buddhism), Columbia University, 2014

M.A., Classical Chinese Literature, Peking University, 2009

B.A., Chinese Language and Literature, Peking University, 2006

Research and Teaching Interests

Comparative and interdisciplinary study of Buddhism; the biography of the Buddha; Buddhist former births (jātaka) stories literature; Buddhist narratives; Indian and Chinese Buddhist art and literature; the art of Gandhara; Women in Buddhism; Buddhist ethics; Early Indian, Central Asian and pre-modern Chinese Buddhism; Transmission of Buddhism across Asia; Buddhist art and material culture; Buddhist stupas and the relic cult; Buddhist cave temples of India, Central Asia and China; Buddhist influences on Chinese Classical literature and culture. 

Selected Publications

Journal Article: “Siddhartha’s First Meditation and a stucco niche from Hadda, Afghanistan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Metropolitan Museum Journal, (in preparation).

Journal Article: “Embodied Virtue: Chinese Versions of the Story of Rupavati, the Buddha’s Previous Birth as a Woman,” The Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies (JCBS) (tentative), (in preparation).

Invited Essay: “The Life of the Buddha on Early Buddhist Indian and Central Asian Stupa Reliefs,” In The Long Arc of South Asian Art: A Reader in Honour of Vidya Dehejia (tentative title), ed. Annapurna Garimella, Women Unlimited, 2021. (forthcoming)

Courses Taught

The Genesis of Buddhist Art (RAHR-8460) | 3 units | Mondays 9:40am-12:30pm