University of Michigan creates world’s first endowed chair of Thai Buddhism

Lion's Roar, March 5, 2015

ANN ARBOR, MI (USA) -- The University of Michigan has received a gift of $2 million to establish the Thai Professorship of Theravada Buddhism, which will further enhance one of the largest Buddhist studies programs in North America.

<< University of Michigan Thayer Street Building, home of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures.

This professorship, dedicated to the Thai tradition of Theravada Buddhism, is believed to be the first such chair in the world.

Theravada Buddhism, the tradition of Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia and Laos, counts more than 150 million followers worldwide.

The holder of this chair at U-M will teach courses and conduct research to advance knowledge of Thai Buddhism. This research will be shared with scholars of Buddhism in Thailand and around the globe, enriching knowledge and understanding of an ancient religion whose teachings continue to inspire the modern world.

The gift was made possible through the initiative and generosity of Amnuay Viravan, the former deputy prime minister, finance minister and foreign minister of Thailand, with matching support provided by the Crown Property Bureau of the Ministry of Finance of Thailand.

U-M has a large and dedicated group of Thai alumni, led by Amnuay, who received a doctorate and two master’s degrees from the university in the 1950s.

“All of the success that I have achieved in my life, I owe to the University of Michigan,” he said. “With the establishment of this chair, I am happy to give something back to my alma mater.”

Amnuay said it was his intention to dedicate the endowed chair to His Majesty the King of Thailand.

The chair will be housed in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. In fall 2015, the department will conduct an international search to fill the newly created professorship.

“Michigan has a long and distinguished tradition of excellence in the field of Buddhist studies,” said Donald Lopez, chair of Asian languages and cultures and the Arthur E. Link Distinguished Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies. “This historic gift will allow us to expand both our undergraduate and our graduate programs in new directions. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Amnuay for his lifelong dedication to the University of Michigan.”

Christi-Anne Castro, director of the U-M Center for Southeast Asian Studies, echoed Lopez’s sentiments.

“Thai Studies is an area of strength at the University of Michigan, and the Thai Professorship of Theravada Buddhism substantively enhances our prominent national position,” she said. “Thanks to Dr. Amnuay Viravan, we will continue to attract the brightest faculty and students to Thai Studies here and provide them with incomparable resources and opportunities.”

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