An inter­view with

Paul Williams

Pos­i­tion & Affil­i­ation: Emer­it­us Pro­fess­or of Indi­an and Tibetan Philo­sophy, Uni­ver­sity of Bristol
Date: March 4, 2019 in Bristol
Inter­viewed by: Anna Sehnalova & Rachael Griffiths

Cite this archive

Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. (2021, Decem­ber 2). An inter­view with Paul Wil­li­ams. Retrieved 16 April 2024, from
“An inter­view with Paul Wil­li­ams.” Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies, 2 Dec. 2021,
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. 2021. An inter­view with Paul Wil­li­ams. [online], Avail­able at: [Accessed 16 April 2024]
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. “An inter­view with Paul Wil­li­ams.” 2021, Decem­ber 2.

Dis­claim­er: The views and opin­ions expressed in this inter­view are those of the inter­viewee and do not neces­sar­ily rep­res­ent the offi­cial pos­i­tion of the Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies project.


Additional info

Authored books


2012                Paul Wil­li­ams (with Anthony Tribe and Alex­an­der Wynne), Buddhist Thought: A Com­plete Intro­duc­tion to the Indi­an Tra­di­tion. Second Edi­tion. Lon­don: Rout­ledge. xi + 271 pp. Com­pletely revised second edi­tion, with addi­tions. Forth­com­ing Span­ish trans­la­tion with Her­der Edit­or­i­al V Eulam.


2011                Paul Wil­li­ams a Anthony Tribe, Buddhi­st­icke Mysleni, Ex Ori­ente, Prague. Czech trans­la­tion of the first edi­tion of Buddhist Thought (below).


2009                Paul Wil­li­ams, Mahay­ana Buddhism: The doc­trin­al found­a­tions, com­pletely revised Second Edi­tion, Lon­don and New York: Rout­ledge. xi + 438 pp. Forth­com­ing in Czech with Aca­demia Pub­lish­ers, Prague, and a Chinese trans­la­tion with Guangxi Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity Press is com­pleted and due out in 2015. I believe there may be an Itali­an trans­la­tion of this 2nd edi­tion pub­lished already.


2006                Paul Wil­li­ams, Mein Weg zu Buddha und Zurück, Munich: Pattloch. Ger­man trans­la­tion of The Unex­pec­ted Way (below).


2005                Paul Wil­li­ams, Nieoczekiwana Droga, Krakow: Wydawn­ict­wo WAM. Pol­ish trans­la­tion of The Unex­pec­ted Way (below). There is also a Czech trans­la­tion, although I do not have the details.


2004                Paul Wil­li­ams, Songs of Love, Poems of Sad­ness: The erot­ic verse of the Sixth Dalai Lama, trans­lated from the Tibetan, with an intro­duct­ory essay and notes for appre­ci­ation by Paul Wil­li­ams. Lon­don and New York: I.B. Taur­is. 190 pp.


2002                Paul Wil­li­ams, The Unex­pec­ted Way: On con­vert­ing from Buddhism to Cath­oli­cism. Edin­burgh: T+T Clark Inter­na­tion­al. xxii + 240 pp. Reprin­ted 2003, 2004, 2005 (with addi­tions), 2007. Review art­icle (in Ger­man) by Johannes Schneider, ‘Buddhism’s most fam­ous Roman Cath­ol­ic’, Una Voce Kor­res­pondenz, May/June 2003, 173–85. Con­tract signed for a Span­ish trans­la­tion with Edi­ciones Cris­ti­andad, Madrid.


2002                Paul Wil­li­ams, Buddhismo dell’India: Un’introduzione com­pleta alla trad­iz­ione indi­ana. Rome: Astro­la­bio Ubaldini. Itali­an trans­la­tion of Buddhist Thought below. Korean trans­la­tion with Bes­tun Korea Lit­er­ary Agency forth­com­ing 2009.


  • Paul Wil­li­ams (with Anthony Tribe), Buddhist Thought: A Com­plete Intro­duc­tion to the Indi­an Tra­di­tion. Lon­don: Rout­ledge. xi + 323 pp. Respons­ible for put­ting the book togeth­er, and writ­ing all the book except for the last chapter (pp. 192–244). Reg­u­lar reprints.


2000                Paul Wil­li­ams, Buddyzm Mahajana, przel. Henryk Smagacz, Wydawn­ict­wo A, Krakow, 2000. Pol­ish trans­la­tion of Mahay­ana Buddhism.


2000                Korean trans­la­tion of Mahay­ana Buddhism pub­lished with Sigongsa.


1998                Paul Wil­li­ams (sole author), Altru­ism and Real­ity: Stud­ies in the Philo­sophy of the Bod­hi­caryavatara. Lon­don: Curzon Press. xii + 272 pp.


1998                Paul Wil­li­ams (sole author), The Reflex­ive Nature of Aware­ness: A Tibetan Mad­hya­maka Defence. Lon­don: Curzon Press. xix + 268 pp.


  • Paul Wil­li­ams, Il Buddhismo Mahay­ana. Rome: Astro­la­bio Ubaldini. Itali­an trans­la­tion of below. Dis­cussed at length by a pro­fess­or in a stu­dio inter­view on Itali­an radio in 1990. Described as ‘the best book on its sub­ject in Italian’.


1989                Paul Wil­li­ams, Mahay­ana Buddhism: The doc­trin­al found­a­tions. Lon­don: Rout­ledge. xii, 317 pp. pb/hb. 1991–2007      Thir­teen reprints of the Rout­ledge edi­tion of Mahay­ana Buddhism. 1989 US edi­tion of Mahay­ana Buddhism. New York: Rout­ledge Chap­man Hall.



Edited books


2012                Paul Wil­li­ams and Patrice Lad­wig (eds.) Buddhist Funer­al Cul­tures of South­east Asia and China (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press).



2005                Paul Wil­li­ams (ed.), Buddhism: Crit­ic­al Con­cepts in Reli­gious Stud­ies, Edited and with a new intro­duc­tion (pp. xxix – xxxiv) by Paul Wil­li­ams. Lon­don: Rout­ledge. Eight volumes. Sole edit­or. Con­tains 110 art­icles, and 3200 pages. Volume 1: Buddhist Ori­gins, and the Early His­tory of Buddhism in South and South­east Asia; Volume 2: The Early Buddhist School and Doc­trin­al His­tory; Theravada Doc­trine; Volume 3: The Ori­gins and Nature of Mahay­ana Buddhism; Some Mahay­ana reli­gious Top­ics; Volume 4: Abhid­harma and Mad­hya­maka; Volume 5: Yoga­cara, The Epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al Tra­di­tion, and Tath­agatagarbha; Volume 6: Tan­tric Buddhism (includ­ing China and Japan); Buddhism in Nepal and Tibet; Volume 7: Buddhism in South and South­east Asia; Volume 8: Buddhism in China, East Asia, and Japan.


Short works


2006                Paul M. Wil­li­ams, Buddhism from a Cath­ol­ic Per­spect­ive. Lon­don: Cath­ol­ic Truth Soci­ety. 80 pp.


1981                (Fran­cis Clark and) Paul Wil­li­ams, Intro­duc­tion to the Study of Reli­gion. Milton Keynes: The Open Uni­ver­sity Press. 103 pp. Pp. 61–100, ‘The Sense of the Holy’.



Chapters in books


2013                ‘Can we kill illus­ory people? Some philo­soph­ic­al reflec­tions on Bodhi[sattva]caryāvatāra 9:11 – 13ab’, in Sarah F. Haynes and Michelle J. Sorensen (eds.) Wad­ing into the Stream of Wis­dom: Essays in hon­or of Leslie Kawamura, Berke­ley, Cal.: Insti­tute of Buddhist Stud­ies and BDK Amer­ica, Inc.: 3–34.


2011                ‘Cath­oli­cism and Buddhism’, in The Cath­ol­ic Church and the World Reli­gions. Edited by Gav­in D’Costa (Lon­don: Con­tinuum), pp. 141–177


2009                ‘Is Buddhist eth­ics vir­tue eth­ics? – Toward a dia­logue with Śān­tideva and a foot­note to Keown’, in John Powers and Charles S. Preb­ish (eds.) Des­troy­ing Māra Forever: Buddhist Eth­ics Essays in Hon­or of Dami­en Keown, Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion: 113–37.


2009                ‘Some theo­lo­gic­al reflec­tions on Buddhism and the unknow­ab­il­ity and hid­den­ness of God’, in John Bowker (ed.) Know­ing the Unknow­able: Sci­ence and Reli­gions on God and the Uni­verse, Lon­don and New York: IB Taur­is: 201–25.


2007                ‘Buddhism, God, Aqui­nas and mor­al­ity: An only par­tially repen­tent reply to Perry Schmidt-Leuk­­el and José Cabezón’, in John D’Arcy May (ed.) Con­ver­ging Ways? Con­ver­sion and Belong­ing in Buddhism and Chris­tian­ity, Sankt Otti­li­en, Bav­aria: EOS-ver­­lag: 117–54.


2005                ‘Gen­er­al Intro­duc­tion’, to Paul Wil­li­ams (ed.), Buddhism: Crit­ic­al Con­cepts in Reli­gious Stud­ies, edited and with a new intro­duc­tion by Paul Wil­li­ams, Lon­don: Rout­ledge. Volume 1, pp. xxix-xxxiv.


2004                ‘Aqui­nas meets the Buddhists: Pro­leg­omen­on to an authen­tic­ally Thomas-ist basis for dia­logue’, in Jim Fodor and Fre­d­er­ick Chris­ti­an Bauer­schmidt ed., Aqui­nas in Dia­logue: Thomas for the Twenty-First Cen­tury, Oxford: Black­well. Pp. 87–117.


1998                Major entry on ‘Empti­ness’, and a short­er entry on ‘Mi bsky­od rdo rje’ for the multi-volume Rout­ledge Encyc­lo­pe­dia of Philo­sophy, Rout­ledge.


1998                ‘Indi­an Philo­sophy’, in A. Grayling ed., Philo­sophy 2: Fur­ther Through the Sub­ject, Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press. Pp. 793–847.


1997                ‘Some Mahay­ana Buddhist per­spect­ives on the body’, in Sarah Coakley ed., Reli­gion and the Body, Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press. Pp. 205–30.


1995                New edi­tion of John R. Hin­nells ed., The Pen­guin Dic­tion­ary of Reli­gions, with the Buddhist entries revised and rewrit­ten by Paul Wil­li­ams and Rupert Geth­in. Hard­back as A New Dic­tion­ary of Reli­gions (Black­well); paper­back with Pen­guin 1997. 25 newly writ­ten entries.


1995                ‘Gen­er­al Intro­duc­tion — San­tideva and his world’, in Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton trans., San­tideva: The Bod­hi­caryavatara, Oxford: OUP World’s Clas­sics series. Pp. vii-xxvi. Czech trans­la­tion of the Intro­duc­tion in San­tideva: Uvdeni na cestu k probuzeni, Prague: Pra­meny Buddhis­mu, 2000.


1994                Entry ‘Buddhism: Tibetan’, in J.M.Y. Simpson ed., The Encyc­lo­pe­dia of Lan­guage and Lin­guist­ics. Oxford : Per­ga­mon Press.


1994                ‘On altru­ism and rebirth: philo­soph­ic­al com­ments on Bod­hi­caryavatara 8:97–8’, Tadeusz Skorupski and Ulrich Pagel ed., The Buddhist For­um Volume 3: Papers in hon­our and appre­ci­ation of Pro­fess­or Dav­id Sey­fort Ruegg’s con­tri­bu­tion to Indo­lo­gic­al, Buddhist and Tibetan Stud­ies. Lon­don: School of Ori­ent­al and Afric­an Stud­ies, Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don. Pp. 307–32. Reprin­ted in Altru­ism and Real­ity (above).


1994                ‘An argu­ment for cit­tamatra: reflec­tions on Bod­hi­caryavatara 9:28 (Tib. 27) cd’, Per Kvaerne ed., Tibetan Stud­ies: Pro­ceed­ings of the Sixth Con­fer­ence of the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­ation for Tibetan Stud­ies. Oslo: Insti­tut­tet for Sam­men­lign­ende Kul­turfor­skning. Pp. 965–80. Reprin­ted in Altru­ism and Real­ity (above).


1993                Sec­tion editor’s intro­duc­tion, plus ‘On minds and mind-trans­­form­a­­tion: The Buddhist per­spect­ive’, Clive Errick­er et al. ed., Teach­ing World Reli­gions: A teacher’s hand­book. Oxford: Heine­mann Edu­ca­tion­al. Pp. 45–9.


1992                ‘On prakrtinirvana/prakrtinirvrta in the Bod­hi­caryavatara: A study in the Indo-Tibetan com­ment­ari­al tra­di­tion’, Johannes Bronk­horst, Kat­sumi Mimaki and Tom J.F. Tille­mans ed., Études Bouddhiques offertes a Jacques May (Asi­at­ische Studien/Études Asi­atiques XLVI, 1, 1992). Bern: Peter Lang. Pp. 516–50. Reprin­ted in Altru­ism and Real­ity (above).


1992                ‘Non-con­­­cep­tu­al­ity, crit­ic­al reas­on­ing and reli­gious exper­i­ence. Some Tibetan Buddhist dis­cus­sions’, Michael McGhee ed., Philo­sophy, Reli­gion and Spir­itu­al Life. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press. Pp. 189–210.


1990                ‘Buddhism’, Ursula King ed., Turn­ing Points in Reli­gious Stud­ies. Edin­burgh: T+T Clark. Pp. 156–67.


1983                ‘On rang rig’, Ernst Steinkell­ner and Helmut Tauscher ed., Con­tri­bu­tions on Tibetan and Buddhist Reli­gion and Philo­sophy. Wien: Arbeit­skre­is für Tibet­ische und Bud­distische Stud­i­en Uni­versität Wien. Pp. 321–32.


1980                ‘Tsong kha pa on kun rdzob bden pa’, Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi ed., Tibetan Stud­ies in hon­our of Hugh Richard­son. Warmin­ster: Aris and Phil­lips. Pp. 325–34.




Aca­dem­ic journ­al papers (ref­er­eed)


2007 (pub­lished 2010)            ‘Christina “the aston­ish­ing” meets the Tibetans return­ing from the bey­ond: A case of mutu­al recog­ni­tion?’, Pacific World: Journ­al of the Insti­tute of Buddhist Stud­ies, Third series, num­ber 9, 103–22.


2004                ‘Aqui­nas meets the Buddhists: Pro­leg­omen­on to an authen­tic­ally Thomas-ist basis for dia­logue’, Mod­ern Theo­logy 20:1, 91–121. Identic­al with book art­icle with the same name, above.


  • Response to Mark Sid­er­its’ review’, Philo­sophy East and West 50:3, 424–53. A reply to a review-art­icle of my Altru­ism and Real­ity.


1999                ‘The self­less remov­al of pain — A crit­ic­al glance at Santideva’s argu­ment in Bod­hi­caryavatara 8: 101–3’, Indo­lo­gica Taur­inensia XXIII-XXIV, 321–350. Much shortened ver­sion of Altru­ism and Real­ity, chapter 5.


1999                ‘A response to John Pet­tit’, Journ­al of Buddhist Eth­ics 6. On-line reply art­icle to a review art­icle by John Pet­tit of Altru­ism and Real­ity.


1995                ‘Identi­fy­ing the object of neg­a­tion: on Bod­hi­caryavatara 9:140 (Tib. 139)’, in Asi­at­ische Studien/Études Asi­atiques XLIX 4, 969–85. Short ver­sion of chapter 4 in Altru­ism and Real­ity (above).


1991                ‘Some dimen­sions of the recent work of Raimundo Pan­ikkar: a Buddhist per­spect­ive’, Reli­gious Stud­ies 27, 511–21.


1989                ‘Some Buddhist reflec­tions on Hans Küng’s treat­ment of Mahay­ana Buddhism in Chris­tian­ity and the World Reli­gions’, World Faiths Insight n.s. 22, 13–26.


1989                ‘Intro­duc­tion — some ran­dom reflec­tions on the study of Tibetan Mad­hya­maka’, The Tibet Journ­al 14, 1–8. Editor’s intro­duc­tion to a spe­cial edition.


1985                ‘rMa bya pa Byang chub brtson ’grus on Mad­hya­maka meth­od’, Journ­al of Indi­an Philo­sophy 13, 205–25.


1983                ‘A note on some aspects of Mi bsky­od rdo rje’s cri­tique of dGe lugs pa Mad­hya­maka’, Journ­al of Indi­an Philo­sophy 11, 125–45.


1982                ‘Silence and truth — some aspects of the Mad­hya­maka philo­sophy in Tibet’, The Tibet Journ­al 7, 67–80.


1981                ‘On the Abhid­harma onto­logy’, Journ­al of Indi­an Philo­sophy 9, 227–57. Reprin­ted in Volume 4 of Paul Wil­li­ams (ed.), Buddhism: Crit­ic­al Con­cepts in Reli­gious Stud­ies, edited and with a new intro­duc­tion by Paul Wil­li­ams. Lon­don: Routledge.


1980                ‘Some aspects of lan­guage and con­struc­tion in the Mad­hya­maka’, Journ­al of Indi­an Philo­sophy 8, 1–45.


1977                ‘Buddhadeva and tem­por­al­ity’, Journ­al of Indi­an Philo­sophy 4, 279–94.


Pop­u­lar journ­al papers


1992                ‘Mad­hya­maka for Mid­wives: part 2’, The Middle Way, no. 66:4, 227–34.


1992                ‘Adapt­ab­il­ity and mor­al­ity — on truth and belief in a Buddhist set­ting’, World Reli­gions in Edu­ca­tion 1992/1993: Reli­gion and Truth, 18–23.


1991                ‘Mad­hya­maka for Mid­wives: part 1’, The Middle Way no. 66:3, 147–54.


1991                ‘Devel­op­ment of faith and the per­cep­tion of truth — the use of the visu­al arts in Buddhism’, World Reli­gions in Edu­ca­tion, 7–9.


1991                ‘Buddhism and sexu­al­ity — some notes’, The Middle Way 66/2, 101–6.


1977                ‘Nagar­juna: selec­tions from the Mad­hya­makakarika togeth­er with extracts from the com­ment­ar­ies’, The Middle Way 52, nos. 1–3 (seri­al­ised).


Review art­icles (ref­er­eed)



1991                ‘On the inter­pret­a­tion of Mad­hya­maka thought — a review art­icle’, of C.W. Hunt­ing­ton Jr., The Empti­ness of Empti­ness: An Intro­duc­tion to early Indi­an Mad­hyami­ka, in Journ­al of Indi­an Philo­sophy 19, 191–218.


1986                Robert A.F. Thur­man, Tsong Khapa’s Speech of Gold in the Essence of True Elo­quence, in the Bul­let­in of the School of Ori­ent­al and Afric­an Stud­ies 49, part 2, 299–303.


1984                Chr. Lindtner, Nagar­ju­ni­ana: Stud­ies in the Writ­ings and Philo­sophy of Nagar­juna, in Journ­al of Indi­an Philo­sophy 12, 73–104.


1980                Mervyn Sprung (trans.), Lucid Expos­i­tion of the Middle Way, in Buddhist Quarterly 12, nos. 1–2, 30–6.


1978                Karl Pot­ter, Indi­an Meta­phys­ics and Epi­stem­o­logy, in Journ­al of Indi­an Philo­sophy 6, 277–97.




Well over 50 reviews of works on Buddhist and Hindu philo­sophy, as well as Tibet­o­logy, have been published.



PhD theses on Paul Wil­li­ams’ work


Ern­est Valea:  A crit­ic­al assess­ment of trends in Buddhist-Chris­ti­an dia­logue as reflec­ted in two views of human per­fec­tion: the Buddhist per­spect­ive of Paul Wil­li­ams and the Chris­ti­an theo­logy of Dumitru Staniloae (Uni­ver­sity of Wales, 2013). A revised ver­sion of this thes­is has been pub­lished as Buddhist-Chris­ti­an Dia­logue as Theo­lo­gic­al Exchange: An Ortho­dox Con­tri­bu­tion to Com­par­at­ive Theo­logy, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015.


In addi­tion Paul Wil­li­ams’ work has been the sole or spe­cif­ic sub­ject of many pub­lished articles.