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Buddhist Studies Symposia

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In connection with the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies, three symposia have been held, in 2017, 2016, and 2015, supported by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and organized by ACLS.


2017

Third Buddhist Studies Symposium, University of Toronto, August 17-21, 2017

Symposium_2017_group Fellows at the workshop, hosted by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto.

"Our Education Knows No Boundaries" is the message that appears as you open the University of Toronto homepage. In the pleasant late-summer Downton Toronto campus, the recent Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Symposium in Buddhist Studies reflected the spirit of this statement in full. Scholars from Korea, France, Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, China, the United Kingdom, Austria, and Canada participated in a two-day intensive workshop followed by a public roundtable and a private reception at the Royal Ontario Museum. The events crossed not only geographical borders but also disciplinary, topic, language, and methodological boundaries. (See symposium program.)

The symposium celebrated the third cohort of Dissertation Fellows and Postdoctoral Fellows of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies, administered by the American Council of Learned Societies. The Foundation generously supported the symposium while its representatives attended the workshop, meeting the Fellows, and discovering their work in progress.

For an outsider, Buddhist studies might mean a scholar bent over old texts performing the diligent work of philology. Translations and critical editions are essential and valuable work for the field, however, there is so much more to Buddhist studies, a field that has been flourishing, as our Fellows proved again in this year’s events. The Fellows at the workshop, led by a contagious curiosity about the world and the Buddhist view of the world, showed us how Buddhism can be looked at through texts, stories, biographies, objects, and modern practitioners.

Compassion, mindfulness, enlightenment, and meditation are big words ubiquitous nowadays in the public vocabulary and imaginary, often attributed to a Buddhist origin. The search for an alternative world view, a non-Western approach to life, as we see in recent books, such as Why Buddhism is True, might increase the attraction to and curiosity about Buddhist studies, in the universities and beyond. Scholars can offer a deeper understanding of what Buddhism is, where it comes from, and provide an informed exploration of a complex field of studies.

Symposium2017-roundtable Public roundtable at the Royal Ontario Museum. (From left to right): Pauline Yu, James A. Benn, Amanda Goodman, and Juhyung Rhi

The three-day symposium concluded with a roundtable reflecting on the intensive two-day workshop and on the impact new research might have on the dynamically expanding field of Buddhist studies. Advisers offered practical advice on research and writing, and shared their experience as scholars and teachers.

The critical but collegial atmosphere among scholars of several intellectual generations demonstrated the vitality of the international network of Buddhist studies.

Our Fellows, who presented their dissertations or first projects after receiving the PhD, are the future teachers and scholars of Buddhism. They are asking the big questions: what is Buddhist philosophy? What is Buddhist medicine? What makes a practice or an idea Buddhist? How is this relevant to the field, to the history of thought, of religions, of peoples and places? Their focused and specialized methodologies and research produce knowledge that informs courses taught at universities, and their publications will influence and enrich the field of Buddhist studies.

Symposium2017-workshop Adviser Stephen Teiser (center) and 2016 Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellows in Buddhist Studies, Davey Tomlinson (left) and Bill McGrath (right).

“Our aim—with the fellowships and grants program, and the annual symposia—is to create a strong global community of Buddhist scholars who can find a dedicated space for sharing their scholarship, ideas, academic-career experiences, as well as collaborate on projects, and advance their field,” commented Andrzej W. Tymowski, director of international programs at ACLS and one of the chairs of the workshop. “Bringing together senior scholars and PhD students about to defend their dissertations, along with early-career postdocs creates a mentorship environment, but also a horizontal exchange and collaboration that will continue through academic careers,” he continued.

The partial eclipse of the sun marked the last day of the Symposium, which concluded with a public roundtable focused on "Bridging the Divides in Buddhist Studies." The speakers considered the question of whether the boundaries of language, nation, period, and discipline have lent the field a hermetic character. Pauline Yu, president of ACLS, moderated the session, which included James A. Benn of McMaster University speaking on “The Divide Between Textual and Historical Studies,” Amanda Goodman of the University of Toronto speaking on “Translation from Sanskrit to Chinese,” and Juhyung Rhi of Seoul National University speaking on “Bridging Buddhist Studies and Art History.” See video

The roundtable was followed by a reception celebrating our Fellows and the opening of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto, our gracious host. The Royal Ontario Museum provided an inspiring backdrop for the closing events. ACLS Fellows and mentors continued their stay in Toronto presenting their work or chairing panels at the 18th International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS) Congress, which followed the symposium.

The symposium, with an intensive work schedule and many opportunities for conversations and questions, energized the growing network of Fellows in Buddhist Studies and opened possibilities for collaboration between scholars from different disciplines and countries. Listening to the participants talk about their work and what motivated them to embrace their projects made you feel confident about the future of the field and the work of the humanities in general, emphasizing at the same time the importance of supporting young scholars.

We look forward to the next symposium to take place at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London in June 2018. We will carry with us until next summer the advice received, at the close of the Toronto Symposium, from Professor Donald S. Lopez, Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan and symposium adviser who commented: "Do what you love, and what you’re good at! Do what you like and do it well! Trends come and go!"


2016

Second Buddhist Studies Symposium, Stanford University, September 7–9, 2016

Symposium_2016

The second Buddhist Studies Symposium, supported by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and organized by ACLS, took place at Stanford University, September 7–9, 2016. (See symposium program.)

Hosted by the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University, the symposium opened with welcoming remarks from Steven Wheatley, vice president of the American Council of Learned Societies; Ted Lipman, executive director of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation; and Paul Harrison, co-director of the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University.

The first symposium session examined an enduring topic in Buddhist studies, the relation of academic study to religious practice. Three senior scholars, Donald S. Lopez, University of Michigan; Birgit Kellner, Austrian Academy of Science; and John Kieschnick, Stanford University, led the participants in a lively discussion.

Celebrating the Fellows of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies, the symposium’s central event was a workshop in which 10 Dissertation Fellows and one Postdoctoral Fellow presented their work in progress to peers, advisers, and Stanford graduate students. The young scholars described the substance of their research as well as the challenges they faced in research and writing. Discussion revolved around requests for further information as well as suggestions for resolving challenges encountered.

The three-day symposium concluded with a roundtable reflecting on the intensive two-day workshop and on the impact new research might have on the dynamically expanding field of Buddhist studies. Advisers offered practical advice on research and writing, and shared their experience as scholars and teachers.

The critical but collegial atmosphere among scholars of several intellectual generations demonstrated the vitality of the international network of Buddhist studies.

For more information, see the profiles of our Dissertation Fellows and Postdoctoral Fellows. The program page offers detailed information on competitions, which include support for postdoctoral fellowships, research fellowships, collaborative research fellowships, and new professorships. All are global competitions with no restrictions as to the location of the work proposed or the citizenship of applicants.


2015

First Buddhist Studies symposium, University of British Columbia, June 7–9, 2015

Symposium_2015

The “Buddhist Studies Today” symposium, supported by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and organized by ACLS, took place at the University of British Columbia, June 7–9, 2015. (See symposium program.)

In her opening remarks, ACLS President Pauline Yu noted that this was the second meeting on Buddhist studies to be held at UBC and organized by the American Council of Learned Societies.  The first, in 1966, had the character of a summit—senior scholars gathered to assess the state of the field and to chart its prospects and urgent needs.  (See video of introductory remarks.)

The 2015 symposium was also led by senior scholars.  The opening convocation heard welcoming remarks from Arvind Gupta, president of the University of British Columbia; Ted Lipman, executive director of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation; and Pauline Yu, president of the American Council of Learned Societies. Their remarks were followed by the keynote address of Donald S. Lopez, Jr., the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan.  Arthur Link attended the 1966 meeting at UBC. 

Half a century later, the symposium included a vibrant representation of the new international generation of Buddhist studies—the first cohort of Dissertation Fellows of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies, administered by ACLS.  The symposium was convened to celebrate the fellows’ achievements and to afford them an opportunity to present their work in progress to critical friends—their peers and senior advisors to the Buddhist Studies Program—in an intensive two-day workshop.  

The three-day symposium concluded with a roundtable on the insights into Buddhism prompted by fellows’ presentations and on the prospects of the academic field of Buddhist studies.  Speakers at the roundtable acclaimed the symposium a success, both for the wisdom shared and for the intellectual friendships formed.  Both bode well for the field.

The University of British Columbia had been chosen as the site for the event by the foundation in line with its interest in building an international network in Buddhist studies through strengthening relations among the individuals and institutions associated with the Foundation. The pleasant surroundings at UBC as well as the participation of its faculty and graduate students confirmed the aptness of the choice.

For more information, see the profiles of the first cohort of Dissertation Fellows on ACLS's website. The program page offers detailed information on competitions, which include support for postdoctoral fellows and collaborative research grants. All are global competitions with no restrictions as to the location of the work proposed or the citizenship of applicants.