Sarah Jacoby Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religious Studies

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. She is the co-chair of the Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Group at the American Academy of Religion.

Professor Jacoby received an American Council of Learned Sciences (ACLS) Fellowship for the 2012-2013 academic year. 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).

She has recently published a monograph titled Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro (Columbia University Press, 2014). This 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).

She is currently working on two new book projects. The first, under contract with Columbia University Press, is a complete annotated translation of Sera Khandro’s 400-plus folio autobiography. The second is a study of aesthetic, philosophical, contemplative, ritual, and narrative dimensions of Tibetan Buddhist discourses on desire, with a particular focus on the interplay between the Buddhist equation of sex, desire, and suffering with tantric transformations of desire into energy on the path to liberation.

In 2014 Professor Jacoby was awarded a Searle Center for Advanced Learning and Teaching Innovation in Teaching Grant. In 2012 she was voted by Northwestern students 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, South Asian Goddess Traditions, Religion, Sexuality, and Celibacy, and Feminist Theory and the Study of Religion.

Selected Works


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


Sarah H. Jacoby, "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.


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.