In memoriam: Diego Loukota, 38, specialist in Indian and Central Asian Buddhism, ‘once-in-a-generation’ intellect

Diego Loukota

Courtesy of Stephanie Balkwill

Diego Loukota teaching a graduate seminar.

UCLA Humanities | March 27, 2024

Diego Loukota, assistant professor of Asian languages and cultures, died at the age of 38 on March 17, in his home in Santa Monica, surrounded by family and friends.

He had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an incurable and aggressive form of brain tumor, in March 2023. Diego was a proud husband to his colleague Stephanie Balkwill, also a UCLA assistant professor specializing in Chinese Buddhism, and father to 8-year-old Remedios, as well as a proud citizen of Guatemala, Colombia and Canada.

A specialist in Indian and Central Asian Buddhism, he continued his activity as instructor, graduate supervisor and researcher throughout the course of his illness until the end of 2023, when his physical limitations made work difficult and secondary to end-of-life considerations.

Diego had unfinished studies in classics and music (cello) from the National University of Colombia, a B.A. in Asian history from the University of Bologna in Italy, and an M.A. in Sanskrit and Pāli from Peking University, where he also studied Khotanese and Gāndhārī under the late Professor Duan Qing. He completed his doctoral studies in Buddhist studies under Professor Gregory Schopen at UCLA.

Diego focused on the philological treatment of unpublished documents, fragments and inscriptions in Central Asian languages, with an eye to their contribution to the history of Buddhism and of the Silk Road.

To contribute a personal reminiscence or anecdote to be shared at an upcoming memorial event, please email his wife, Stephanie Balkwill, at To read more about Diego Loukota’s life and work, visit UCLA Newsroom.

Tributes and remembrances from Diego Loukota’s colleagues

“Diego was a brilliant scholar, a once-in-a-generation type of intellect. His ability to work across so many languages of the Buddhist tradition was unmatched, and it allowed him to do pioneering work, drawing connections across languages, texts and traditions that had not been seen before.

“He was also an accomplished musician and artist. Above all, he was a remarkable person, someone devoted to his family and a wonderful colleague, mentor and friend to so many. Even while he was facing this terrible illness over the past year, every time I would talk to him, he expressed concerns about other people first.

We were blessed to have him in Asian Languages and Cultures, first as a Ph.D. student and then as a faculty member. It’s just a devastating loss.”

Seiji Lippit
Professor and Chair, Asian Languages and Cultures


“Diego was a dazzling scholar, with a breadth and depth of knowledge that were simply breathtaking, especially given that the range covered the vast and forbidding terrain from China and India across Central Asia to the Classical West, and encompassed numerous arcane languages and cultures whose names most people have never even heard of. He knew the languages and their texts in granular detail, but he never lost sight of the fact that they were produced by people — and it was their lives and interactions that he focused on.

“When I first met him, it was immediately clear that he was going to be unlike any graduate student I had yet encountered — his vast knowledge base and the scholarly maturity of the questions he asked were those of a senior colleague. Perhaps the first thing I noticed in the first class he took with me was that, in a class on an Iranian language, he took his notes in Chinese. But despite his evident superiority in all these classes, he never used it as a wedge between himself and his fellow students. His aim was always to create community, to spark in them the same enthusiasm for the subject that was so infectiously evident in him — and he was remarkably successful.

“Diego was a philologist’s philologist. Philology involves drilling down to the tiniest, most technical details in manuscripts, texts and languages, and he was superb at that. But he strongly felt that philology is the best available method to investigate the spotty historical records of ancient and medieval civilizations around the globe and to restore them accurately and in their many details to the modern consciousness. In thinking about how to counter some distressing modern political and social trends, he urged us to continue to show, as he wrote, ‘how the exacting, old-fashioned, and undeniably technically intricate methods of philology are precisely the very tools through which ancient words speak most clearly about the ancient structures of power and domination that still linger in the present.’

“He was always an enlivening presence, and his interests and talents extended far beyond scholarship.”

Stephanie Jamison
Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures, Professor of Classics
Chair, Program in Indo-European Studies


“I first met Diego 10 years ago, when he joined our department as a Ph.D. student. I introduced myself at the welcome lunch, telling him that I was also a native Spanish speaker; there aren’t that many of us in Asian studies. We immediately struck up a wonderful conversation that wandered from ancient Central Asia to Japan, with a detour about the study of literature and religion, and on to our experiences of living in different places before coming to Los Angeles.

“Diego had an extraordinary talent for languages, both modern and ancient. His CV lists seven modern — English, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, German, French and Japanese — and eight ancient — Sanskrit, Classical Chinese, Khotanese, Gāndhārī Prakrit, Pāli, Tibetan, Greek and Latin. Most of these he had acquired before even coming to UCLA. I know of no other scholar who reads all of these classical languages, and certainly no one who is able to read them at such a high level.

“After he graduated, we were fortunate enough to have him join the faculty, but from the very beginning Diego always felt like a colleague. He embodied everything the ideal scholar is supposed to be: full of boundless curiosity, contagious enthusiasm and an immense generosity of spirit. He paid extraordinary attention to details, whether he was reading a manuscript or engaged in conversation, and had a remarkable talent for connecting these details to the larger worlds of both past and present.

“As both a scholar and a human being, Diego was one of a kind.”

Torquil Duthie
Professor and Vice Chair, Asian Languages and Cultures