By Professor Robert Sharf
The Group in Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, was organized in 1972 in order to promote interdisciplinary research in the field of Buddhism and to oversee a specialized Ph.D. program — one of the first of its kind in the world. The many graduates of the Ph.D. program have gone on to hold faculty positions in leading colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, SUNY Stony Brook, the University of Michigan, the University of Toronto, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Washington. Our alumni are also a presence in Asia, with Berkeley graduates teaching at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Seoul National University, Chalalangkorn University in Bangkok, and Huafan University in Taipei.
The Group takes advantage of Berkeley’s strengths in the areas of Asian history, art history, language, and literature. Ph.D. students in Buddhist studies have access to the broad spectrum of courses offered in the Departments of East Asian Languages and Cultures, South and Southeast Asian Studies, History, and History of Art, including instruction in a range of modern and classical Asian languages (Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Vietnamese, Khmai, Thai, Indonesian, Tagalog, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, etc.).
In the fall of 2004, U.C. Berkeley inaugurated a new Center for Buddhist Studies within the Institute for East Asian Studies. The Center has launched a series of high-profile events, beginning with a very successful conference on Buddhism and the Media. Over the past eleven years, the Center has sponsored major international conferences on topics as diverse as Buddhist relic veneration; Buddhist practice in medieval Dunhuang; the role of humor in Buddhism; issues of text, translation and transmission; Literati Buddhism in middle-period China; “Rediscovering Afghanistan’s Past” (presented in conjunction with the opening of the “Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul” exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco); Buddhist Tantra, and Buddhism and cognitive science. It also sponsors a popular colloquium series that brings in ten or so Buddhist scholars each year to present their latest research. In addition, the Center organizes the annual Khyentse Lecture, and an annual symposium to celebrate the presentation of the Toshi Book Prize, a $10,000 prize given to the single most important contribution to Buddhist scholarship in the previous year.
The tremendous interest in the study of Buddhism at UC Berkeley has encouraged us to expand our undergraduate curriculum. In the past few years, we have added over a dozen new courses to the undergraduate and graduate rosters; the undergraduate courses regularly draw upwards of 100 students. In the fall of 2004, we inaugurated a new undergraduate minor in Buddhism, the first of its kind in the country.