The Department of Buddhist Studies at Magadh University in Bihar, India, which used to reverberate with the studious activities of academics from India and across Asia, including Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, is these days struggling to attract students.
The Times of India newspaper has reported that there are only 36 students in the current cohort, with only a handful from Cambodia and Myanmar, out of a total of 110 sanctioned places, and the department only has two teachers to teach them.
Dr. Vishnu Shankar, associate professor of the department, explained that the department had been running quite satisfactorily until recently. The functioning of the department has since been hampered by the COVID–19 pandemic and a lack of teaching staff.
“Foreign scholars dared not come here and seek admission [to the] Buddhist studies courses,” Dr. Shankar said. “Furthermore, even the examinations of the university have gone haywire.” (The Times of India)
Magadh University was founded in 1962 as a tribute to the Buddha and Buddhism in Bodh Gaya, where the historical Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. The Department of Buddhist Studies was established in 1984 by the then governor and chancellor A. R. Kidwai and the Sri Lankan high commissioner. The heads of diplomatic missions from various Southeast Asian countries expressed interest in the establishment of department and its development. Dr. K. K. Dutta, founding vice-chancellor of the university, also showed interest in Buddhism and its culture by establishing new divisions of Southeast and South Asian Studies in the Department of History.
According to the Times of India report, the department lost its esteemed position toward the end of the 20th century after a political strongman was awarded a PhD in the field of Buddhist studies. Subsequently, multiple examples of fraudulent degrees and certificates being awarded to a significant number of recipients surfaced, undermining the department’s reputation. The authorities concerned, however, took steps to restore university’s image.
An evaluative report published in 2021 revealed a number of weakness in the Department of Buddhist Studies, including a small number of teaching and support staff, a weak financial situation, the lack of availability of a separate Buddhist-friendly hostel, and administrative restrictions.
The evaluative report further stated that with the appointment of qualified faculty, more students of all genders from the Buddhist world who are interested in pursuing Buddhist studies could be attracted to study at the university.
“After successfully completing this course, students become eligible for employment in regional studies, area studies, religious studies, and yoga studies organizations that work with intercultural and multicultural issues,” said Dr. Shankar. (The Times of India)
Meanwhile, Nalanda University and Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, a deemed university in the region, have both started offering courses in Buddhist studies, both of which are attracting a good number of students from India and abroad.
Nalanda University’s School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions offers postgraduate courses (MA and PhD), while Nava Nalanda Mahavihara offers a variety of courses related to Buddhist studies.
About Magadh University (Department of Education)
Buddhist studies dept fails to attract scholars (The Times of India)
Evaluative report of the Department: Department of Buddhist Studies, M. U. Bodh Gaya (Magadhuniversity.ac.in)
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