Buddhist East Asia:   The Interplay of Religion, the Arts and Politics

An NEH Summer Institute ~ May 28 to June 22, 2018 ~ Honolulu, Hawaii ~ Hosted by the Asian Studies Development Program

Buddhist East Asia:  The Interplay of Religion, The Arts and Politics
An NEH Summer Institute

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Thank you for your interest in Buddhist East Asia. I hope that the program described on this site is one that you find as exciting as I do. As the Director of the Asian Studies Development Program (ASDP), I’ve had the pleasure of designing and conducting faculty development summer institutes, field seminars and workshops for over twenty years, including seventeen NEH-funded summer institutes. This is just the second program focused entirely on Buddhist traditions in their historical and cultural contexts and builds on the lessons learned in and from that earlier experience in 2015. As a way of introducing myself and my vision of the institute, I’d like to say a bit about why I’m so keenly anticipating bringing the program to life next summer with a group of twenty-five undergraduate educators.


My academic training—both undergraduate and graduate—was in philosophy. As an undergraduate, my focus was on the Western traditions of existentialism, phenomenology and pragmatism. But, like many in my generation, I developed interests in Asian thought and culture. By the time I started thinking about graduate school I had added Buddhist meditation to my daily schedule and a large number of Asian recipes to my culinary repertoire, and I was determined to focus my doctoral work on Buddhist philosophy, with an emphasis on time and consciousness. The University of Hawaiˋi philosophy department was as good a place to do so as I could have hoped for, offering the only degree in the U.S. on Asian and Comparative Philosophy, with over a dozen faculty members with interests in Indian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese thought.


Still, it was a philosophy department, and my continued and deepening practice of Buddhism made it clear that—as important as the philosophical dimensions of Buddhism may be—they are but part of the Buddhist “total care” system. Helping to launch ASDP in 1991 also helped to expand the horizons of my intellectual engagement with Buddhism and its integration into diverse Asian cultures and societies. Furthering the ASDP mission of mainstreaming Asian content in undergraduate teaching and learning, throughout the humanities and social sciences, gave me the opportunity to appreciate the distinctive sensitivities and sensibilities that help “define” scholarly disciplines and how they shape the dynamics of learning-about other cultures and societies. But it also gave me the opportunity to discover the deep pleasures of continually learning-from and learning-with others whose lives, interests and training are very different from my own.


For me, Buddhist East Asia is a dream opportunity to share in exploring the diversity of the Buddhist “total care” systems that emerged in China, Korea and Japan and their ongoing transformation in response to contemporary realities, and to do so in a comfortably-situated, cognitively and culturally diverse community. In contrast with the reduction of diversity, especially in educational settings, to something purely quantitative, my conviction is that diversity is not something you can measure or see at a glance; it’s a qualitative, relational achievement that emerges only when differences become the basis of mutual contribution and truly shared flourishing. Openness to diversity, in this sense, is I think part of what enabled Buddhism to spread successfully across Eurasia. It is also part of what has made that spread a complex process that has often been as much contested as celebrated.


NEH Summer Institutes have inestimable value as opportunities for revitalizing and reorienting academic lives. If you find the opportunity to devote four weeks to exploring both the diversity of Buddhist East Asia and what we might learn from it as exciting as I do, I hope you’ll take the time to apply.


Take care,



Dr. Peter D. Hershock

Director, Asian Studies Development Program

East-West Center