Hillary A. Langberg F’22 earned her PhD in Asian Cultures and Languages at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on the rise of goddess worship in Indian Buddhism as seen through Sanskrit texts and sculpted panels in monastic cave temples. Facing an extremely competitive academic job market, she wanted to extend her job search outside academia. However, without prior museum experience, she worried positions that would directly utilize her expertise were limited. Through the American Council of Southern Asian Art listserv, she learned about The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Buddhism Public Scholars Program, applied, and was awarded a placement with the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution.
“The Buddhism Public Scholar fellowship offered through ACLS has opened a new career path to me, allowing me to learn an entirely new skillset and preparing me for a career in public humanities in the sphere of curatorial or other museum work,” said Langberg.
The program places recent PhDs in professional positions with leading museums, libraries, and publishers that present and interpret knowledge of Buddhist traditions. Langberg is one of four inaugural Buddhism Public Scholars named in 2022 that work to strengthen the capacity of their host organizations in Buddhist art and thought.
“We are all deeply committed to developing profound ways of connecting with diverse publics…and to mentoring the next generation of museum professionals,” said Debra Diamond, Elizabeth Moynihan Curator of South Asian and Southeast Asian Art at the National Museum of Asian Art. “[That is why] we were deeply interested in partnering with ACLS and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Global.”
The Buddhism Public Scholar fellowship offered through ACLS has opened a new career path to me, allowing me to learn an entirely new skillset and preparing me for a career in public humanities.
Hillary A. Langberg F’22
Exhibition preparation (Clockwise from top left): Hillary at the Kanheri Buddhist cave complex in Mumbai, India, Jan. 2023 (credit Paul Langberg); Shakyamuni Buddha sculpture from Tibet in object storage (credit H. Langberg); Banner with detail of Tibetan book cover depicting goddess Ushnisha-vijaya in the galleries (credit E. Stein); South and Southeast Asian art curator, Emma Natalya Stein, measures the display elevation of a Nepalese Vasudhara sculpture with the assistance of collection manager Brian Abrams (credit H. Langberg); Padmasambhava sculpture (credit Alison Reppert Gerber).
As a Buddhism Public Scholar, Langberg is working on the exhibit “The Art of Knowing in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas.” Opening on March 25, 2023, the exhibit brings together Buddhist and Hindu objects from these regions to explore religious and practical knowledge across time, space, and cultures.
“Writing on these artworks was particularly fascinating to me as it dovetails with my personal research,” Langberg said. “I found the collaborative process to be not only an incredible learning experience but also an empowering one.”
Aided by the knowledge and skills gained in earning her PhD, the original scope of Langberg’s work on the exhibit expanded, and she drafted all the Buddhism-related labels.
“Hillary’s superb research on Buddhist objects in our collection led to new identifications and deeper understandings of objects, and she developed an internal working paper that helped us all better understand the nuanced meanings of knowledge in Buddhist traditions. In recognition of her contribution, we have made her a co-curator of the exhibition,” said Diamond.
Langberg explained that the experience was mutually beneficial, as the process introduced her to many aspects of the curatorial process, allowing her to view artworks in object storage, examine floor plans and object elevations, and promote the exhibition to public audiences on social media.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for the museum to not only deepen our research and outreach, but also to participate in the project of protecting the humanities in this challenging time.
Meanwhile, she is also working on turning her dissertation in to a book manuscript entitled Goddesses on the Bodhisattva Path: The Development of Female Deity Reverence in Mahayana Indian Buddhism. Supported by the fellowship’s travel and research stipend, she traveled to India in January 2023 to reexamine and photograph her source material for the book project at three major Buddhist rock-cut monasteries in Maharashtra.
Placing early career scholars in professional positions outside the academy has been a focus at ACLS for over a decade, through programs such as ACLS Leading Edge Fellowships and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellowships. With the partnership of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Global, the Buddhism Public Scholars Program nurtures reciprocal partnerships between scholars and hosts that help disseminate knowledge of Buddhist traditions to the broader public.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the museum to not only deepen our research and outreach, but also to participate in the project of protecting the humanities in this challenging time. We are proud to be part of the program.” Diamond said.
The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies
Launched in 2014, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies, administered by the American Council of Learned Societies, promotes the academic study of Buddhism and the dissemination of knowledge of Buddhism through support for dissertations, research, and translation, and by assisting institutions to establish new, tenure-track teaching positions.