Buddhist Asia: Traditions, Transmissions and Transformations

  An NEH Summer Institute ~ May 25 to June 26, 2015 ~ Honolulu, Hawai'i ~ Hosted by the Asian Studies Development Program


Thank you for your interest in Buddhist Asia. I hope that the program is one that you find as exciting as I do. As the Director of the Asian Studies Development Program (ASDP), I’ve had the pleasure of designing and conducting faculty development summer institutes, field seminars and workshops for over twenty years, including fifteen NEH-funded summer institutes. But, this is the first program focused entirely on Buddhist traditions in their historical and cultural contexts. And, as a way of introducing myself and my vision of the institute, I’d like to say a bit about why I’m so excited about helping to bring the program to life next summer.


My academic training—both undergraduate and graduate—was in philosophy. As an undergraduate, my focus was on the Western traditions of existentialism, phenomenology and pragmatism. But, like many in my generation, I developed interests in Asian thought and culture, and by the time I started thinking about graduate school I had added meditation to my daily schedule and a large number of Asian recipes to my culinary repertoire. And I was determined to focus my doctoral work on Buddhist philosophy, with an emphasis on time and consciousness. The University of Hawaiˋi philosophy department was a perfect match, offering the only degree in the U.S. on Asian and Comparative Philosophy, with over a dozen faculty members with interests in Indian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese thought.


Still, it was a philosophy department, and my view of Buddhism was in many ways discipline-bound. Helping to launch ASDP in 1991 also helped to dissolve some of the boundaries around my interests in Buddhism and fostered much wider engagement with Asian cultures and societies. The ASDP mission of infusing Asian content into undergraduate teaching and learning throughout the humanities and social sciences has necessitated hosting robustly multidisciplinary programs. This has made it possible for me to “stay in school,” learning-about other cultures and societies through the distinctive sensitivities and sensibilities that help “define” scholarly disciplines, but also learning-from and learning-with others whose lives, interests and training are very different from my own.


For me, Buddhist Asia is a dream opportunity to participate in the shared exploration of the diversity of Buddhist traditions, transmissions and transformations, with all the benefits of doing so in a cognitively and culturally diverse community. Diversity is a word that gets bandied about a lot now, especially in education, where it often gets attached to some kind of numbers games. My own view is that diversity is not something you can measure or see at a glance; it is a qualitative relational achievement that emerges only when differences become the basis of mutual contribution to shared flourishing. In this sense, I think that openness to diversity is part of what enabled Buddhism’s successful spread across Eurasia. It is also part of what has made that spread a socially, economically, politically and technologically (including ritually) complex process, and one that has often been as much contested as celebrated.


I can think of few things with greater or more positive anticipation than the prospect of spending five weeks in Hawai`i exploring Buddhist Asia with a group of equally enthusiastic but differently endowed partners. Hopefully, I’ll have the pleasure of reading your application and getting to know you next summer and over the years to come.


Take care, Peter

Dr. Peter D. Hershock

Director, Asian Studies Development Program

East-West Center

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