Prof. Steven Collins, a world-renowned scholar of Buddhism and its associated Pali language, passed away from natural causes Feb. 15, while leading a seminar in New Zealand. He was 66.
The Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities, Collins chaired the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations several times since joining the UChicago faculty in 1991. He was also associate faculty in the Divinity School.
Whitney Cox, associate professor and chair of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, said Collins was one of his generation’s most distinguished historians of premodern Southern Asia.
“He was perhaps the single most sheerly intelligent person I’ve ever known, a great citizen of the University, and a wise and compassionate teacher and friend,” Cox said. He described Collins as a “doting husband, father and grandfather, an obsessive Miles Davis and John Coltrane fan, and a lifelong supporter of Tottenham Hotspur F.C. soccer.”
Collins was the author of several books on Buddhist studies. His thesis became the basis for his first book, Selfless Persons. He later examined the makings of Buddhist civilization—an idea he explored in Nirvana: Concept, Imagery, Narrative. Most recently he was writing about civilization, wisdom and practices of the self.
Daniel Arnold, associate professor of the philosophy of religions in UChicago’s Divinity School, said he had a “transformative encounter” with Collins’ Selfless Persons as a graduate student. He later became Collins’ colleague and counted him a friend.
“I will miss many things after his tragically untimely passing,” Arnold said. “May all who of us who learned from his exemplary intellectual engagement strive to continue bringing something of this lost clarity of thought to a world badly in need of it.”
Collins is survived by his wife, Claude Grangier, senior lecturer in Romance Languages and Literatures at UChicago; as well as three children and three grandchildren.