In Fall 2016 the University of Toronto launched The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies on its St. George campus. Providing an intellectual home for faculty and students in Buddhist Studies across the University, the Centre is housed within the University’s Department for the Study of Religion. The Centre supports academic training, collaborative research with graduate and undergraduate students, and a program of events that engage scholars and the public seeking to deepen understanding of the diversity of Buddhist traditions around the world.
With the founding of the Centre, the University of Toronto joins a global network of Buddhist Studies programs who have received funding from The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, including those at the Courtauld Institute of Art in the United Kingdom, the University of British Columbia in Canada, and Harvard and Stanford universities in the United States.
The University of Toronto has the largest contingent of Buddhist studies experts in Canada. These scholars teach and conduct research on history, practice, art, philosophy, medicine and other aspects of Buddhist Studies, focusing on Buddhist regions of South Asia, the Himalayas, Nepal, Burma/Myanmar, Central Asia, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. The gift from The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation has created a University-wide locus for advancing research, teaching and public education on an extraordinarily rich and diverse global tradition.
U of T’s Department for the Study of Religion is the unit in which most Buddhist Studies scholars are either appointed or affiliated, and which houses graduate and undergraduate programs in Buddhist Studies. The Department is the largest department in religious studies in Canada and among the top in North America. It offers a balance of attention to Eastern, Middle-Eastern and Western religions, between classical and modern iterations of religions, and between traditional historical, philological and text-centred approaches to that engage anthropology, sociology, politics and post-colonial studies. It regards its location in one of the world’s most religiously diverse cities as an important resource and responsibility in facilitating intellectually informed and publicly-minded conversations on religion in the public sphere.
Undergraduate students enroll in courses on Buddhist Studies and cognate topics offered through the Buddhist Studies Specialist and Major degree programs in the Department for the Study of Religion. A number of undergraduate students each year participate in advanced Buddhist Studies research training through faculty-led research clusters and international programs. The Woodsworth College Summer Abroad program in Hong Kong has regularly offered RLH290Y Religion in Hong Kong or RLG206Y Introduction to Buddhism as international courses for students interested in Buddhist Studies. Undergraduates also accompany Buddhist Studies faculty members abroad for research: two recent research opportunities have brought students interested in Buddhism to Vietnam and Himalayan India. Other types of funding at the University have provided undergraduate students, such as Taylor Irvine, with the chance to travel for independent research on Buddhism.
The graduate degree program in Buddhist Studies is also housed in the Department for the Study of Religion. Graduate students in Buddhist Studies also regularly accompany faculty members on research trips or conduct their own graduate research abroad, traveling in recent years to India, China, Tibet, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, and Mongolia, and most graduate students participate in faculty research clusters in Buddhist Studies. Students may enroll in coursework at the University in languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Korean, Burmese, Pali, Newar, Nepali, and Vietnamese. The Phool Maya Chen Scholarship in Buddhist Studies is an endowed scholarship in the Department that is awarded to a PhD student in Buddhist Studies.
Our scholars and students have access to outstanding academic resources. Foremost is the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library. The Library began with a collection of rare materials acquired from China in the 1930s and today is one of the major research collections on East Asian studies in North America. It holds foreign language source materials for advanced research in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Tibetan Buddhism, containing more than 400,000 volumes. Other U of T libraries have extensive holdings in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and Sanskrit, covering a range of Buddhist texts and secondary scholarship.
The Library has been particularly supportive of the growth of Buddhist Studies at the U of T over the last decade. For example, a unique model of international collaboration between the U of T and Columbia University’s research libraries harnesses existing expertise in Tibetan collection services at both universities to increase the availability of Tibetan resources to a wider community of scholars in Canada and the US, making the Tibetan collection at U of T the largest in Canada. Faculty and students of both institutions benefit from the innovative service model created by the partnership, established in 2012, which provides for jointly sponsored acquisitions trips to enhance the Tibetan collections at both universities, and a shared point of service for research consultations.
Faculty members and students also have access to Buddhist art and artifacts in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Within the ROM, the Department of World Cultures employs several full-time researchers devoted to the art and archaeology of Asia. Among the permanent collections containing Buddhist objects are the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of China, the Prince Takamado Gallery of Japan, the Gallery of Korea, and the newly established Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery. In addition, the ROM is home to the H.H. Mu Far Eastern Library, which is considered to be the most important collection in Canada uniquely devoted to Asian art.
In addition to extensive library and museum resources, the University of Toronto hosts a number of regular lecture series that are focused in full or in part on Buddhist Studies. Most prominently, the University of Toronto / McMaster University Yehan Numata Program in Buddhist Studies is a yearly series of Lectures and Reading Group meetings in Buddhist Studies, as well as regular conferences in Buddhist Studies. Critical Indology is an annual lecture on methods, theories, and sources for studying South Asia. Centre for South Asian Studies Lectures is a series organized by the CSAS that has events in support of Buddhist Studies regularly. Lectures in the Arts, Histories, Literatures and Religions of Burma is presented by the Southeast Asia Seminar Series and the Centre for South Asian Studies once yearly.
In addition to these lecture series, University of Toronto is regularly the host of major conferences or workshops focused fully or in part on Buddhist Studies. For example, in 2012 the Department for the Study of Religion hosted the annual Religion and the Literary in Tibet workshop, bringing over twenty international scholars here to discuss new research on Tibetan literature and their effects on religious discourse and practice. Religious Materiality in the Indian Ocean World, 1300-1800 was the 2015-2016 Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which interrogated how material forms of religious culture reveal the historically contingent nature of trans-local practices in the Indian Ocean World from 1300 to 1800. In 2017, U of T will host the XVIIIth Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. This conference, which takes place every three years in Asia, Europe, or the Americas, is the largest international forum for the presentation of current academic scholarship on Buddhism. This will be the first time a Congress of the IABS will take place in Canada.
Established in 1827, the University of Toronto is Canada’s largest university, recognized as a global leader in research and teaching. The university consistently ranks among the top 25 universities in the world. Its distinguished faculty, institutional record of ground-breaking scholarship and wealth of innovative academic opportunities continually attract outstanding academics and students from around the world.
The University of Toronto is situated in a city that is home to the most diverse population in the world, with more than 150 languages spoken daily and approximately half of the residents originating from beyond Canada’s borders. Among them are dozens of Buddhist communities, resulting in a unique mosaic of Buddhist traditions in the Greater Toronto Area. This mosaic is reflected in the range of traditions that are studied at the University of Toronto, the diversity of our student body, and the kinds of community partnerships that enrich our learning and teaching.