I met Stefano for the first time in August of 2011, when he came to Berkeley as the Numata Visiting Chair in Buddhist Studies. We quickly bonded over things both academic and non-academic, including our mutual love of sailing, and we ended up attending each other’s seminars. (His memorable seminar was on An Shigao’s Yinchiru jing.) We had many wonderful conversations both on and off the water.
Stefano was a scholars’ scholar; he was a meticulous and thoughtful reader of medieval Buddhist texts, and his work is exemplary for the way it places close reading and philological rigor in service of issues of broad significance and interest. His writing on even the most arcane and technical of subjects is always lively and engaging. And his enthusiasm and dedication to his work is inspiring. Stefano once shared with me his approach to long-haul international flights: he would choose a seat in the very back of the aircraft—the seat that nobody in their right mind would want. That way he frequently found himself alone, where he could pass the time happily immersed in his work without the usual distractions of home or office. Stefano actually seemed to enjoy air travel!
His contributions to the field are many and significant, but I’d prefer to focus on his personal qualities. Stefano seemed supernally untouched by the endemic insecurities and petty rivalries that can bedevil academic life. His intellectual virtuosity and delight in his work was matched by his guilelessness and generosity of spirit. He genuinely enjoyed and saw the best in those around him. I saw this in the unpretentious way he took to Oxford: without a trace of condescension, but with the gracious eye of an astute anthropologist, he found Oxford culture as drolly entertaining as it was intellectually stimulating. Somehow his unaffected appreciation of Oxford seemed of a kind with his appreciation of the back row of airplanes.
Stefano was a dear friend, and inspiring scholar, and a professional role model for me. He was one of a kind, and will be sorely missed.
Robert H. Sharf (UC Berkeley)