New UA Program to Explore Buddhism

A Buddhist studies minor will be available starting in the fall, and it will draw from the University's existing expertise in religious studies, East Asian studies, Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, and South Asian religions.
March 17, 2015
Extra Info: 

For the Buddhist studies minor, UA students will be required to complete 18 units. Of these, nine must be upper division, with up to six units taken from courses with significant Buddhist content. Also, students may take three units as an internship or practicum.

In response to the increased adoption of traditions originating from Asia and to the expanding transcultural nature of the world, the University of Arizona is introducing an undergraduate minor focusing on Buddhism, which is practiced by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The program is targeting students in a range of disciplines to provide them with a greater understanding of Buddhist societies, cultures and values. The minor will become available for the fall semester.

Given the recent rise of East Asian economies and markets, it will be even more critical that new-generation professionals are not merely trained in their home disciplines — whether that be business, law, sociology, journalism or otherwise — but that they also are better equipped to engage with Buddhists, said Albert Welter, head of the UA Department of East Asian Studies.

"Much, if not most, of the Asian world is Buddhist, or has Buddhist traditions, and Buddhism is a large component of the Asian value system regardless of the country you visit," said Welter, also the associate director of the School of International Languages, Literatures and Cultures. "We are here to inform people and to create knowledge and understanding about different traditions. Overall, the program is meant to help students appreciate different philosophical, ethical and spiritual approaches to knowledge."

The interdisciplinary program, supported by the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, draws from the UA's existing expertise in areas that include religious studies, East Asian studies, Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, South Asian religions and other areas.

In addition to the minor, the department, in conjunction with the Confluencenter, is launching a Buddhist Lecture Series, which is free and open to all. All lectures will be held at 4 p.m. in the Ruble Room of the UA Poetry Center.

Welter presented the first lecture, "Reading a Zen Classic: The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch," earlier this month. Celestino Fernandez, a UA sociology professor and a University Distinguished Outreach Professor, will present "Happiness and Buddhism" on April 14. And Jiang Wu, an associate professor of East Asian studies, will present "Religious Imagination in the World of Lotus Sutra" on May 5.

"I am delighted to see the development of the Buddhist studies minor," said Javier Durán, director of the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry. The program was launched as "a rapid synergistic result" of work led by Confluencenter's Contemplative Traditions Working Group, which evolved out of the center's Innovation Farm program. The program also is supported by a grant from the Massachusetts-based Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

"The minor reflects effectively how research and curriculum merge for the benefit of our students and promises to energize Buddhist studies at the UA," Durán said. "It is a great example of how interdisciplinary collaborations facilitated by the Confluencenter are impacting the way we think about teaching in our campus."

The new Buddhist studies program complements a number of UA programs and offerings introduced to expand the study and expansion of contemplative practices, including the Arizona Meditation Research Interest Group, the Center for Compassion Studies, the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and the Program in Medical Humanities.

"In many ways, we are only consolidating, affirming and emphasizing what has existed on campus and in the East Asian studies department for some time," Welter said.

In the Buddhist studies minor, students will have the option of taking courses covering topics such as Asian Religions, Religion in Japan and in India, Zen Buddhism, Buddhist meditation traditions, and the history of East Asian Buddhism. Students also can take courses on ancient, medieval and modern Japanese religions.

Wu, who is teaching a new course on Zen Buddhism this semester, said the need for the program is even more present given the misconceptions that exist around the history and practice of Buddhism.

"There is this gray area where people talk about Buddhism," Wu said, noting that Buddhism is often removed from its historic and cultural context. Wu also said that some still confuse regional traditions and concepts associated with Buddhism.

"There is considerable interest in Buddhist studies, or the related and new interdisciplinary research happening with mindfulness, psychology and consciousness studies," Wu said. "It is absolutely a good time to introduce the minor."