Anja Hartmann: Member of the Board of Directors & Chair of the Academic Development Committee
Global academia as we know it is a European invention. As Walter Rüegg put it in the foreword to his book, A History of the University in Europe (Cambridge 1992), “The university is a European institution; indeed, it is the European institution par excellence.” The university was born from the legacy of scholarly monastic learning on one hand and European monarchs’ desire to accumulate, structure, and make worldly use of knowledge on the other hand. Thus, from its very beginning, academia was both deeply rooted in the Christian tradition and strongly connected to European politics, sometimes with a decidedly anti-religious (later called “secular”) twist. For centuries, founding a university was many a European monarch’s claim to outer power and inner independence.
This peculiar early tradition of being neither fully religious nor strictly nonreligious was the breeding ground for the particular mindset of 18th-century western enlightenment thinkers, who valued the ongoing development of theories supported by stringent logical arguments (or replicable experiments). These scholars never accepted any current theory as the truth and expected all researchers to keep a dispassionate distance from their objects of research.
Against this historical backdrop, Buddhist Studies is a rare animal in the global academic fauna. Nourished by the great wisdom traditions of the East, Buddhist Studies naturally shares few to no commonalities with academia’s Christian heritage, and with its western heritage more generally. Therefore these studies are often marginalized in the university curriculum. Also, the Buddhist notion of the unity of wisdom and compassion is at odds with the academic requirement of “objectivity”—so much so that in 2017, the Khyentse Center for Textual Buddhist Scholarship at the University of Hamburg addressed exactly this issue with a workshop titled “Birds as Ornithologists: Scholarship between Faith and Reason.”
At the same time, however, Buddhist scholarship, with its love for rational argument as well as with its ingrained skepticism toward any single truth (let alone ultimate truth) fits well with the views, values, and methods of academic research, regardless of all differences in origin and history. Acknowledging this affinity, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has repeatedly emphasized the importance of academic studies in Buddhism, calling scholars today’s “guardians of the teachings” — particularly in these times of watered-down New Age interpretations of “Buddhism”.
Since its inception, Khyentse Foundation has supported the academic study of Buddhism. In particular, support for academic institutions has always been one of the pillars of our work. Given the importance of institutionalized professorships as a driver for research and teaching, especially for a rather marginalized academic field, one of our aims is to sponsor endowed chairs of Buddhist Studies. The first was the Khyentse Chair at the University of California, Berkeley in 2006, followed by the Khyentse Gendun Chopel Professorship of Tibetan Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan in 2018.
Today we are delighted to announce another lifetime professorship in Buddhist Studies, at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, one of the oldest universities in Europe.
To further strengthen the presence and potency of Buddhist Studies, we are also starting a new program to support graduate students in academia, especially in places and institutions where PhD candidates don’t automatically receive financial support.
Finally, we are excited to report that currently more than half of our ongoing grant funds awarded to academic institutions benefits either universities in Asia or students from Asia. Following this direction, we aspire to continue to enhance the cross-fertilization between the academic mindset and its methods and Buddha’s wisdom and compassion around the globe.