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“Currents and Countercurrents in Sinitic Buddhism” Conference Celebrates the Career of Dr. Robert E. Buswell Jr. 

On Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25, students and colleagues will gather at the University of California, Los Angeles to celebrate the career and contributions of Dr. Robert E. Buswell Jr., the Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies in the UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, who is retiring after 36 years at the university. 

The conference consists of two full days of panel discussions and lectures, including a keynote address by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. There will also be a roundtable discussion on the last 50 years of Buddhist Studies with Lopez, Smith College professor Peter N. Gregor, and University of Notre Dame professor Robert Gimello. Princeton professor Dr. Jacqueline Stone will moderate the roundtable. Other panels will cover Korean Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism. 

Members of the general public are welcome to attend, but everyone must pre-register

“It’s a reunion more than anything,” says Jennifer Jung-Kim, PhD, Assistant Director and Senior Editor of UCLA Centers for Buddhist Studies, who is organizing the conference.

“Professor Buswell is a giant in the field of East Asian Buddhism,” Jung-Kim says. “Aside from his numerous publications (monographs, translations, and series), he has trained some of the top scholars in the field. And because of his years of experience as a monk and decades as a practitioner, his knowledge of Buddhism is comprehensive and unmatched. His contributions to developing the field of Korean Buddhist Studies have also elevated the place of Korean Buddhism in the world.”

Lopez agrees. “There are many things I could say about Robert Buswell, whom I have known for almost forty years, our names forever linked by the five-pound black book we published in 2013. His contributions to the field—as an author, editor, teacher, and administrator—are many. But to identify the most important, he did something that very few have done: he single-handedly transformed the field of Buddhist Studies. Through the books he wrote and the students he trained, the essential role of Korea and Koreans in the history of Buddhism is, at long last, understood and appreciated in the West.” 

Before joining UCLA, Buswell was an ordained Buddhist monk in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Korea. He founded UCLA’s Center for Korean Studies in 1993 and its Center for Buddhist Studies in 2000. In 2008, he became the first scholar of Buddhism and of Korea to serve as president of the Association for Asian Studies, and in 2016 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

He is well known for editing the two-volume Encyclopedia of Buddhism, and for co-authoring with Lopez The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism.

“Every project I work on involves reaching for that dictionary, which I cherish with the same veneration as any sutra,” says former student Frederick Ranallo-Higgins, PhD, who also praises Buswell for bringing Korean Buddhism into the field of Buddhist studies. With The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, he “transformed textual translation, bringing over one hundred years of disparate translated terminology into one reference, creating a more standardized vocabulary, and increasing access across area studies.” 

Ranallo-Higgens also cites Buswell’s The Zen Monastic Experience as an important, accurate portrayal of the life of monastics, often romanticized in the West. 

In May, Buswell and his wife, Christina, made gift commitments to establish an endowed chair and a graduate research fellowship in Buddhist Studies at UCLA. The Chinul Endowed Chair in Korean Buddhist Studies is the first permanent endowed chair in Korean Buddhism outside of Korea

As Jung-Kim says, “Their generous gift commitment to create the Chinul Endowed Chair in Korean Buddhist Studies highlights the Buswells’ generosity and concern for UCLA and the field.”

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(Originally posted by Alison Spiegel)
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Friday, 01 July 2022