AS INTEREST IN BUDDHISM continues to grow in America, many people are choosing to deepen their understanding of this tradition through graduate level study. If you are contemplating this route, one of the first things to examine is your motivation for pursuing an advanced degree in this field. Is it to complement a Buddhist practice? Is it to build a career in academia? Most graduate programs in Buddhist studies do not serve as a substitute for the faith in, and the practice of, Buddhism. Rather, they approach Buddhism from analytical vantage points: from history, sociology, philology, philosophy, religious studies, and cultural studies.
Nevertheless, there are a number of degree programs that encourage or support Buddhist practice and scholarship among students. These “practitioner-friendly” programs generally offer one of three things: the ability to pursue a degree in the context of Buddhist priestly training, courses in the practice of Buddhism that complement academic study, or an emphasis on the study of Buddhism from a normative point of view. Keep in mind, though, that if you’re interested in pursuing a career in academia, the institutions that offer these practice-integrated programs are often not accorded the same status as secular universities.
At most universities, faculty members in Buddhist studies rend to be far fewer in number than their Christian or Jewish counterparts. As a result, very few programs can be considered comprehensive: most have a strength in a particular geographic/cultural area (South Asia, Tibet, East Asia), a particular tradition (Ch’an/Zen, Theravada, Tibetan), or a particular approach (philological, historical, apologetic). While a comprehensive program may be optimal, many graduate students have also prospered in departments with a strength in one area of specialization. In such smaller contexts, working closely with a faculty member whose interests coincide with your own may compensate for the more limited scope of the program.
Most faculty in Buddhist studies are housed in either a religious studies or an area studies program (East Asian, South Asian studies). Religious studies departments commonly require coursework and exams in other religious traditions as well as familiarity with the theoretical literature of the study of religion in general. In contrast, area studies programs place greater emphasis on the study of Asian languages (Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan) and the study of Buddhism in its various historical and cultural contexts.
The following Buddhist studies programs are divided into several categories designed to help you decide which schools may be most appropriate for your interests and goals. Professors whose names appear in brackets are not specialists in the study of Buddhism per se, but because their expertise is in subject matter closely related to Buddhism they have taught or directed graduate students in the past.
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