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Sarah Jacoby

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence

Sarah Jacoby studies Asian Religions with a specialization in Tibetan Buddhism. She received her B.A. from Yale University, majoring in women's studies, and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Virginia's Department of Religious Studies. She joined Northwestern University in 2009 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. Her research interests include Indo-Tibetan Buddhist doctrine and ritual in practice, studies in gender and sexuality, Tibetan literature, autobiography studies, Buddhist revelation, the history of emotions, Buddhism in contemporary Tibet, and eastern Tibetan area studies.

For an overview of Professor Jacoby’s research and teaching, see the article “Treasure Seeker” recently published by Northwestern News. To learn more about the Tibetan translation workshop Professor Jacoby  co-organized at Northwestern in October 2022, see Celebrating Buddhist Women’s Voices in the Tibetan Tradition.

Professor Jacoby has received an American Council of Learned Sciences (ACLS) Fellowship and an American Academy of Religion International Collaborative Research Grant. Her research has also been funded by The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Writing Fellowship, the Fulbright Hays Dissertation Research Fellowship, and multiple Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS).

Her first monograph Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro (Columbia University Press, 2014) is the winner of the 2016 E. Gene Smith Book Prize from the Association of Asian Studies for books on Inner Asia and a finalist for the 2015 American Academy of Religion Book Award for Excellence in Historical Studies. Love and Liberation is the first study in any language of the autobiographical and biographical writings of one of the most prolific female authors in Tibetan history, Sera Khandro Künzang Dekyong Chönyi Wangmo (also called Dewé Dorjé, 1892--1940). She was extraordinary not only for achieving religious mastery as a Tibetan Buddhist visionary and guru to many lamas, monastics, and laity in the Golok region of eastern Tibet, but also for her candor. This book listens to Sera Khandro's conversations with land deities, dakinis, bodhisattvas, lamas, and fellow religious community members whose voices interweave with her own to narrate what is both a story of love between Sera Khandro and her guru, Drimé Özer, and spiritual liberation.

Her other books include Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience (Oxford University Press, 2014, co-authored with Donald Mitchell), and Buddhism Beyond the Monastery: Tantric Practices and their Performers in Tibet and the Himalayas (Brill, 2009, co-edited with Antonio Terrone). Her current book project examines rare biographical and ritual texts written by the early 18th-century Tibetan religious hierarch Lelung Zhepai Dorjé.

In 2015 and 2018 Professor Jacoby was voted by Northwestern students onto the ASG Faculty Honor Roll. In 2014 she was awarded a Searle Center for Advanced Learning and Teaching Innovation in Teaching Grant. In 2012, she was voted onto the ASG Faculty Honor Roll and awarded a teaching excellence award from the Department of Religious Studies. Courses she teaches include Introduction to Buddhism, Buddhism and Gender, Buddhist Auto/biography, Tibetan Religion and Culture, Theory and Methods in the Study of Religion, Religion, Sexuality, and Celibacy, and Feminist Theory and the Study of Religion.

For information about the Khyentse Foundation Buddhist Studies Lecture Series that Professor Jacoby is chairing, see here.

Selected Works


Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro. Columbia University Press, 2014, paperback edition released in 2016.

Co-authored with Donald Mitchell. Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Co-edited with Antonio Terrone. Buddhism beyond the Monastery: Tantric Practices and their Performers in Tibet and the Himalayas. Leiden: Brill, 2009.


"Tibetan Buddhist Metaphors and Models of Motherhood.Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 37, no. 1 (2021): 45-62.

Padma’tsho (Baimacuo); Jacoby, S. "Gender Equality in and on Tibetan Buddhist Nuns’ Terms."  Religions 2020, 11, 543.

"In search of a queer Buddhist theology", Religion, 49:4 (2019), 723-727.

“Tibetan Studies and the Art of Dialogue”, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 48, Avril 2019, pp. 152-169. 

Response to Ann Gleig and Amy Langenberg’s AAR panel "From Rape Texts to Bro Buddhism: Critical Canonical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Sex Abuse Scandals in Western Buddhism,” Sakyadhita. 27 (winter 2018):  pp. 5-9. 

The Science of Sensual Pleasure According to a Buddhist Monk: Ju Mipam’s Contribution to Kāmaśāstra Literature in Tibet.Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 80/2 (2017): pp. 319-337. 

"Relational Autonomy in the Life of a Contemporary Tibetan Ḍākinī." Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 34, Décembre 2015.

"The Excellent Path of Devotion: An Annotated Translation of Sera Khandro's Short Autobiography," in Himalayan Passages: Tibetan and Newar Studies in Honor of Hubert Decleer. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2014.

“To be or not to be Celibate: Morality and Consort Practices According to the Treasure Revealer Sera Khandro’s (1892-1940) Auto/biographical Writings.” In Sarah Jacoby and Antonio Terrone (eds), Buddhism beyond the Monastery: Tantric Practices and their Performers in Modern Tibet. Leiden: Brill, 2009.

"This Inferior Female Body:’ Reflections on Life as a Treasure Revealer Through the Autobiographical Eyes of Se ra mkha’ ‘gro (Bde ba’i rdo rje, 1892-1940).” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 32/1-2 (2009/2010): pp. 115-150.


Does Taylor Swift have good karma? Check out Professor Sarah Jacoby's interview in Vulture Magazine about Swift’s new song “Karma”.

Read the Spotlight on Teaching column in Religious Studies News (RSN) co-edited by Sarah Jacoby on “Contemplative Pedagogy in the Religious Studies Classroom”, "Teaching Religion as Anti-Racism Education" and “The 2016 Election and its Aftermath in the Religious Studies Classroom” 

Watch Prof. Jacoby’s lecture “Interdependent Personhood and Relational Ethics: A Tibetan Perspective,” part of the fall 2018 lecture series on persons at Boston University’s Institute for Philosophy & Religion.

See a video of Professor Jacoby presenting the significance of her research on Sera Khandro for the humanities at the 2013 ACLS annual meeting panel titled "Emerging Themes and Methods of Humanities Research: Discussion with ACLS Fellows"

Hear an audio interview with Sarah Jacoby about her book Love and Liberation posted on the New Books in Buddhist Studies.