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Prayers Answered

The Center for Buddhist Studies secures its future.

Rod Searcey

SCHOLAR DOLLARS: Lin and Bielefeldt see the new grants as a big boost for students.

Nestled in Building 70, near Memorial Church, are several small conference rooms lined with hundreds of leather-bound books—the many canons of Buddhism. As American pop-culture fascination with the Eastern religion has grown, a small cadre of faculty and staff with a tiny budget has kept Buddhist studies alive on campus for more than a decade.

Now, armed with two sizable grants, the Center for Buddhist Studies has bigger dreams of endowing graduate fellowships, bringing in visiting fellows, holding more public events and sponsoring international conferences.

In June, the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation gave $5 million to fund graduate fellowships and underwrite the center in Ho's name. Stanford's is the first in a network of centers the Hong Kong-based philanthropist plans to fund. The Shinnyo-en Foundation designated $1.8 million for a visiting professorship. Both grants will be matched with funds from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

“This ensures the center will be a permanent thing,” says its director, professor of religious studies Carl Bielefeldt. “Up until now, we've been on soft money, dependent on the kindness of others.”

The visiting professorship will add heft to the center's current trio: Bielefeldt, who studies medieval Japanese Buddhism; Irene Lin, the center administrator; and Paul Harrison, a specialist in Indian Buddhist history and literature. “It's not just an added body,” Bielefeldt points out, “but a different body and brain every year. We can tailor it to our specific students.”

Bielefeldt and Lin talk about other high hopes they have for students, based on these grants and more funds they plan to raise. For example, doctoral candidates—there have been about two dozen so far—find it challenging to finish their PhDs before funding runs out, because of the field's extensive language demands; most learn at least Sanskrit and Pali, the classical language of Southeast Asia, as well as classical Japanese and Chinese. Lin, MA '01, PhD, '01, knows what that was like, having entered the field after earning finance and law degrees and practicing law. “It's a lot of language,” Bielefeldt muses.

Dissertation grants and postdoctoral fellowships would allow scholars the time to publish their dissertations before tackling tenure-track pressures.

When the center opened, it was the first of its kind in the country, straddling academic work and public outreach. It has since published a series of books on Asian religions in conjunction with Stanford University Press and held scholarly conferences. Bielefeldt and Lin would like to convene students from around the country to read texts or attend workshops during summer sessions.

The center tries to educate a broader public through programs like this year's lecture series, Buddhism in the Modern World, in which nuns from different traditions will participate. Such events include a vegetarian dinner and typically attract 30 to 50 people, Lin says.

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