The Shinjo Ito Distinguished Chair in Japanese Studies at UC Berkeley was established in 2009 with an endowment from the Shinnyo-en Order that was matched by the Hewlett Foundation. It is named after the founder of the Shinnyo-en Order, which teaches that all people carry the seed of enlightenment within them and that by acting with sincerity and kindness, each person may bring that seed to fruition. Shinnyo-en Foundation facilitated this enduring partnership between the Shinnyo-en Order and UC Berkeley. Both institutions foster a culture of public service with a commitment to inclusion and excellence. The endowed chair is awarded to an eminent faculty member at UC Berkeley whose work involves research on Japanese Studies and whose research and teaching focus on Japanese Buddhism.
After the departure of the inaugural Chair, Professor Duncan Williams, an extensive national search was carried out for two years, ending with the appointment of Professor Mark Blum last fall as the second Shinjo Ito Distinguished Chair. On December 10, 2013, the Shinnyo-en Order and the Foundation were honored to attend a welcome reception for Professor Blum.
Professor Blum received his M.A. in Japanese Literature from UCLA and his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from UC Berkeley. He specializes in Pure Land Buddhism throughout East Asia, and also works in the area of Japanese Buddhist responses to modernism, Buddhist conceptions of death in China and Japan, historical consciousness in Buddhist thought, and the impact of the Nirvana Sutra in East Asian Buddhism. He is the author of The Origins and Development of Pure Land Buddhism (2002), and co-editor of Rennyo and the Roots of Modern Japanese Buddhism (2005) and Cultivating Spirituality (2011). His translation from Chinese of The Nirvana Sutra: Volume 1 (2013) was just published and on numerous occasions, Professor Blum has generously shared his knowledge with the Shinnyo-en community, which upholds the Nirvana Sutra as its primary text. He is currently working on completing Think Buddha, Say Buddha: A History of Nenbutsu Thought, Practice, and Culture.
The evening was celebratory and it was an honor to be in the presence of Professor Blum’s colleagues and friends, including Chancellor Emeritus, Robert Birgeneau. The Shinnyo-en Order was presented with copies of Professor Blum’s Nirvana Sutra: Volume 1 and two beautiful bookends. Thank you to Professor Steven Vogel and the staff at the Center of Japanese Studies who hosted the reception!
The Foundation also supports two postdoctoral fellows at the UC Berkeley. The current Shinjo Ito Postdoctoral Fellow in Japanese Buddhism is Dominick Scarangello and the Shinjo Ito Postdoctoral Fellow in Buddhist Studies, Ryan Overbey. Professor Overbey will be giving a lecture at UC Berkeley on February 6, 2014 at 5 p.m. and it’s open to the public. For more information about the lecture or upcoming events, please visit the Buddhist Studies at UC Berkeley page.