Chair in Chinese Buddhist Studies Inaugurated at Columbia

New York, NY, December 3 2006.

It is not uncommon to encounter Buddhist studies programs at institutions of higher learning. But an endowed chair in Chinese Buddhist studies at a major American university is a significant development.

A co-operation agreement has recently been signed by the Sheng Yen Education Foundation and Columbia University for the establishment of a Sheng Yen Chair in Chinese Buddhist Studies. It is anticipated that the joint endeavors of these two institutions can foster academic research into the past, present and future of Chinese Buddhism.

The idea for this collaboration was first when Professor Chunfan Yu from Columbia’s Department of Religion raised the matter with Master Sheng Yen.

Last December, University Vice Provost Paul J. Wanderer and Professor Robert Hymes, Chairman of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, together with Professor Yu, visited Master Sheng Yen at the Chan Meditation Center in New York for further discussions.

At the meeting, all present lamented the long-standing failure on the part of Buddhist institutions to study Chinese Buddhism after the 12th century. Master Sheng Yen noted, moreover, that academic research on Chinese Buddhism should not be confined to Chinese, but should also include other Asian countries that were strongly influenced by Chinese Buddhism.

Master Sheng Yen proposed three main directions for the program: First, recent developments of Buddhism in China; second, the Chinese religious tradition and the modernization of Buddhism; third, the development of contemporary Chinese Buddhism, especially since the latter half of the 20th century with the advent of the Humanistic Buddhism cultivated in Asia.

Initially, Buddhist studies at Columbia focused on Japanese Buddhism. Since the establishment of a chair in Tibetan Buddhism over a decade ago, the study of Tibetan Buddhism has also become current in the United States. With the endowment of a chair in Chinese Buddhist studies, the first of its kinds anywhere, Chinese Buddhism may soon attain similar currency in the academic world and beyond.

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