Close this search box.


Harvard Divinity School’s Buddhist Ministry Initiative Celebrates 10th Anniversary


Harvard Divinity School’s office of ministry studies is sponsoring a 10th Anniversary Celebration on 27 October. The event marks a decade of the Buddhist Ministry Initiative (BMI) with an in-person reception at the university as well as a hybrid program featuring BMI alumni, which can be streamed online.

Rev. Dr. Monica Sanford, assistant dean for multireligious ministry at Harvard Divinity School (HDS), who leads the Buddhist Ministry Initiative, told BDG: “The Buddhist Ministry Initiative was formally founded at Harvard following a grant from the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation received in 2011. In 2012, the program hired a full-time coordinator, the first Buddhist denominational counselor at HDS, offered the first BMI Colloquium—which 75 students attended—and welcomed the first two international fellows to take courses at HDS in 2012.”

Over the past 10 years, the BMI has seen great success. According to Dr. Sanford: “We are celebrating all the good work done since that time. We have now welcomed over 20 international fellows, about half of whom have continued on to receive degrees from HDS. Over 50 Buddhist students have graduated from the MDiv program—and more from other programs. The BMI has held three conferences, and the Buddhism & Race series has held three conferences or [during covid] online speaker series.

“While we are proud of these events at Harvard, we are even more proud of the work our graduates have done out in the world as a result of their involvement with the BMI. The celebration will showcase six outstanding alumni and the work they have done in the world since leaving HDS.”

The reception begins at 5:30pm (EDT) with the hybrid program starting at 7pm (EDT). The following alumni are scheduled to give talks about their lives and work after studying at the Harvard Divinity School:

• Maria Azhunova, BMI International Fellow 2022. Director, Land of Snow Leopard Network
• Harrison Blum, MDiv 2012. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, Amherst College
• Nancy Chu, MDiv 2015. PhD candidate in Religious Studies, Stanford University; Associate Editor, Lion’s Roar Magazine
• Bhante Kusala, MDiv 2017. Dhamma teacher, monastic, spiritual care provider:
• Ven. Priya Rakkhit Sraman, MDiv 2017. Buddhist chaplain, Emory University
• Kinga Tshering, MDiv Student 2018–21. Founder, Institute of Happiness; former member of parliament, Kingdom of Bhutan

The BMI is unique to programs in higher education for Buddhists, as it provides an “opportunity to study vocational and practical topics at the graduate level,” said Dr. Sanford. “That has been almost entirely reserved for Christians and Jews in the US—until the last couple of decades, that is.”

Dr. Sanford added: “HDS isn’t the only school with a training program like this. But it is the only one where the academic program is 1) multi-religious, 2) multi-vocational, and 3) embedded in a major research university with considerably access to a wide range of resources.”

She clarified that this is different from Buddhist studies programs, which aim to produce professors, saying: “Buddhist ministry is primarily about preparing Buddhists in an academically rigorous way for work and service outside the academy.”


Harvard Divinity School traces its history to the establishment of Harvard in 1636. Its first endowed professorship was established in 1721. Its first graduate program for ministerial candidates began in 1811. In 1816, the Harvard Divinity School was officially established and was the first nonsectarian theological school in the United States. It celebrated its bicentennial in the 2016–17 academic year with a series of events and exhibitions. As with much divinity and theology education in the Western world, the school has been dominated by Christian students and professors.

Dr. Sanford noted: “While the seeds of Buddhist study had been planted at HDS as early as the 1950s and had grown considerably in both faculty and students since 2001, it was the grant from the Ho Foundation that enabled the formalization of a program to serve the needs of Buddhist students enrolled in the MDiv program and grow the academic field of Buddhist Ministry.”

Read more

Buddhist Ministry Initiative Tenth Anniversary Celebration (Harvard Divinity School)
History and Mission (Harvard Divinity School)

Related news reports from BDG

Harvard, Oxford to Offer Pali Reading Courses
84000 Founds Assistant Professorship in Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto
Prolific Translator of Buddhist Texts Thomas Cleary Dies Aged 72
American Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass Dead at 88

Related features from BDG

Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Scholar Ven. Thich Tam Tien Brings the Dharma to Harvard Divinity School
Book Review: Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger
Ho Family Foundation Scholars Participate in Harvard Conference on Buddhism and Race
On Bhikkhunī Ordination by Bhikkhu Analayo: An Interview with Bhante Kusala

Related features from Buddhistdoor Global

Related news from Buddhistdoor Global

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments