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Simpson College Adds Buddhist Studies Professor Thanks to Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Grant


Simpson College, a private liberal arts college in Indianola, Iowa, has announced that it will offer a Buddhist studies program beginning in 2022. A new position is being created at the college, funded by a grant from the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies, which is administered by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). The college is in the process of finalizing its hiring process this month.

John Woell, academic dean for the college, stated: “The grant was written by Prof. Jon Kara Shields last fall and it’s a five-year grant to fund the position and the search for the position. It comes with a small research funding, some course development funding, and things like that.” (The Simpsonian)

Woell noted that the work to create the position began in 2000 with the initial grant application to the ACLS: “It was really Prof. Shields and Prof. Callan who did the bulk of the work and pulled that all together, and so that allowed us to post at both the assistant professor and associate professor level.” (The Simpsonian)

Last fall, the Karen Buddhist Association of Ohio took over a building previously held by Simpson College, with plans to turn it into a temple with housing for a monk. The building was the home of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church prior to being acquired by the college.*

Indianola has a population of 15,833, meaning that a stable Buddhist temple and community would be a significant landmark in the central-Iowa town. The Karen people are an ethnic group who predominantly live in southeastern Myanmar. Most of those living in Indianola now arrived in 2006–07 as refugees from the ongoing civil war in Myanmar.

“Only time will tell, but we are hoping to develop a positive relationship of mutual benefit between the campus community and our new Karen neighbors,” said Prof. Jon Kara Shields. (The Simpsonian)

Maeve Callan. From
Jon Kara Shields. From

The new position will help to expand the department of religion, which is currently made up of Callan and Shields, both of whom are educated in Western traditions—Callan focusing on the history of religions in Ireland and Shields holding expertise in Christian ethics, anthropology, and women and gender in religion. 

Both Shields and Callan indicated that they hoped this new position would make the department and college more welcoming to new students from diverse religious backgrounds. Callan said: “We hope our new colleague will also help strengthen our Interfaith Fellows program, enriching religious diversity and interfaith engagement on campus and further deepening our relationships with the wide range of religious communities in the area.” (The Simpsonian)

The incoming Buddhist studies professor will be expected to teach a variety of courses, with specific details to be worked out once the individual is hired and has a chance to determine what courses they would like to offer.

“They will teach courses in introductory, intermediate, and advanced studies on Buddhism, as well as contributing to the foundation’s program, Intro to World Religions, and possibly offer courses on Indigenous religions,” said Shields. “They might teach courses on cultural understandings of death and mourning practices, Buddhist philosophy of mind, the spread of Buddhism in the United States, about how Buddhism has influenced approaches to sports performance or psychotherapy, a course on Buddhist art, Buddhism and disability studies, or a course on Buddhism and Asian politics.” (The Simpsonian)

* Buddhism Sees Growth in Iowa, Heartland of the US (BDG)

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Buddhist studies arriving at Simpson College this fall (The Simpsonian)

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