Updated January 27, 2020

The Divinity School is pleased to announce a gift which enables the launch of a multi-year initiative in Theravada Buddhist Studies. The gift of $850,000 from Mr. Jun Zhou, chairman of Zhongtong Logistics Company Ltd. and the Jefferson Education Group, aims at building a vibrant community interested in the study of Theravada Buddhism, and is comprised of multiple components.

At the Divinity School, the gift will fund several visiting professors in Theravada Buddhist Studies over the next few years. Distinguished scholars will be invited to campus to teach Theravada Buddhism from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Our first visiting professor will be John Holt, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College. Professor Holt will be in residence at the Divinity School for the academic year 2019-2020, and will offer courses in two quarters.

Additionally, the gift will fund a lecture series in Theravada Buddhist Studies in order to promote a broader understanding of the wide historical range of traditions, including Theravada, that make up Buddhism. In addition to scholars, the Divinity School will host several Theravada Buddhist monks who are master practitioners and teachers of meditation; they will offer meditation workshops, and continue their translation of Pali texts into Chinese.

The gift also facilitates bringing scholars of the Theravada Buddhist tradition to the Divinity School for training in the academic study of religion through our Masters of Arts in Religious Studies (AMRS). The AMRS can be tailored to focus on a particular area, and students interested in Theravada Buddhism can study with any of the Divinity School’s faculty and visiting faculty, as well as other relevant faculty throughout the University, including in the departments of South Asian and East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

“This gift from Jun Zhou has great significance to the University of Chicago Divinity School,” said David Nirenberg, Dean of the Divinity School and the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor. “We are grateful to Mr. Zhou for his generous gift, which will allow us to build upon our existing strengths in the academic study of Asian religions generally, and Theravada Buddhism specifically.”

The study of Buddhism enjoys a long tradition at the University of Chicago, engaging students and faculty from the Divinity School as well as the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions. The excellence of work at UChicago in the history, religions, and literatures of South and East Asia provides a rich contextual framework for in-depth consideration of particular developments in the Buddhist world, and the University’s strong commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship broadens horizons for work in the area. Buddhist Studies scholars from The University of Chicago hold positions at many North American colleges and universities.

Mr. Zhou’s gift also supports new research materials for the Library’s East Asia collections; the library has strong collections pertaining to Buddhist Studies. The gift funded a major study trip to Asia for the Dean of the Divinity School and two Divinity School professors in Winter quarter 2018, helping to establish relationships with individuals and institutions active in the practice and teaching of Theravada Buddhism. An additional gift from Mr. Zhou will support other UChicago-China initiatives, especially at the University’s Laboratory School, educating preschool through high-school age children.