No.072 - Professor Jean-Noël Robert is the Third Recipient of the NIHU International Prize in Japanese Studies

Professor Jean-Noël Robert is the Third Recipient of the NIHU International Prize in Japanese Studies

NIHU is pleased to announce the awarding of the third NIHU International Prize in Japanese Studies to Dr. Jean-Noël Robert, professor at the Collège de France. Dr. Robert is internationally acclaimed as France’s leading authority on Japanese Buddhist studies and his achievements are widely known around the world. I'd like to introduce the prize recognizes Dr. Robert’s research activities as follows.

The Prize first salutes Dr. Robert’s outstanding achievements in the study of Buddhism. His research on Japanese Buddhism culminated in a study featuring detailed translations and annotations for the Tendai Hokke-shū gi shū [Collected Teachings of the Tendai Lotus School], written by Gishin (781−833), a direct disciple of prominent Buddhist monk Saichō (767−822). This study gained international recognition as the first-ever endeavor to systematically elucidate the Tendai sect doctrine in a Western language.
  Dr. Robert also published a French translation of Kumārajīva’s (344–413) Chinese rendition of the Lotus Sutra which is the canonical text of the Tendai sect. Through an outstanding French rendering that appealed to Westerner readers, Dr. Robert significantly contributed to creating a better understanding of Buddhism in Europe and provided a new perspective that highlights the roles classical Chinese (Chinese writing) played regarding Buddhist scriptures, in contrast to the way conventional scholarship revolved around original Sanskrit texts.
  Second, the Prize commends Dr. Robert for research predicated on his fresh perspective reevaluating Jien’s (1155−1225) shakkyō-ka; adaptations of Buddhist doctrines in a Japanese poetry format. By shedding light on how such verses by Jien—a Tendai sect Buddhist monk from the early Kamakura period (1185–1333)—combine Japanese poetry, translation, and commentary, Dr. Robert gained new perspective for recognizing the role of shakkyō-ka. While clarifying the characteristic of this Buddhist poetry tradition as a fusion of Japanese, Chinese, and Sanskrit, Dr. Robert offered an integrated perspective on the relationship between religion and literature in medieval Chinese- and Japanese-style verse, and, in turn, reinterpreted shakkyō-ka from a broader literary context.
  Third, the Prize applauds Dr. Robert’s proposal of the concept of hieroglossia. Focusing on how the East Asian understanding of Buddhism relies on Chinese writing as one can see from shakkyō-ka, and identifying this with the role Latin serves in the West, Dr. Robert argues that one should compare zokugo (i.e., Japanese) and seigo (i.e., the classical Chinese from which Japanese is derived) and look at Japanese culture from a broader historical and regional context. Future research using the hieroglossia concept to analyze the relationship between classical Chinese and Japanese is expected to propel new endeavors to understand Japanese culture from a universal standpoint.
  The fourth activity celebrated by this Prize is Dr. Robert’s exceptional career as an educator. He has made diligent efforts to mentor the younger generation at L’École Pratique des Hautes Études and trained many eminent scholars of Japanese culture. In academic interchange, Dr. Robert has closely coordinated with scholars in Japan to arrange countless international meetings and devoted himself to proactively creating opportunities for the exchange of knowledge.
  The screening committee of the NIHU International Prize in Japanese Studies chose Dr. Robert for the FY2021 Prize for these broad-ranging research and other activities. The award ceremony and commemorative lecture are scheduled to be held in Tokyo in early summer 2022. We look forward to meeting and interacting with Dr. Robert.

Dr. Jean-Noël Robert

Dr. Jean-Noël Robert

Text: Lee Sungsi, Executive Director of NIHU and Vice-Director of Center for Information and Public Relations