Lancaster University’s Educational Fund for the Study of Asian Religions by Overseas Students
Proposal for Postgraduate Scholarships
Lancaster University’s Religious Studies Department – the first in the world – has always worked with a commitment to a plurality in the study of religions. But it is also notable in being committed to a thoroughly non-hegemonistic view of religions. In particular, Asian religions have tended to be studied on their own terms and with every tradition given equal weight in the syllabus and in research. This is evident in the way the department presents itself:
The significant aspect of the teaching and researching of Asian traditions in general (and Indic traditions in particular) is the autonomous and respectful position accorded to these areas/subjects within the department. For example, at the undergraduate level, students take core courses, one each in Eastern and Western traditions, with no distinction made in the quality and weight attached to each. Within the Eastern course, half the year is currently devoted to Hinduism, half to Buddhism and Japanese religions. A significant element of this course is the analysis of Western-derived concepts, like modernity, from Asian perspectives. This thorough inter-penetration of ideas is extended not only to undergraduate options (indeed, the only current full units available to students are ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Religion in Contemporary Indian Life’) but, significantly, to post-graduate studies. The postgraduate core course in Asian religions, ‘Studying Asian Religions’, is meant not only to explore aspects of Asian traditions, but critically analyse Western study of Asia and Western concepts of Asian religions.
At present, the Asian studies staff are all demonstrably committed to studying Asian traditions as central to and authoritative sources of the study of religion and culture. Please see the web-site for details. It should be noted that Prof. Ian Reader’s work on Japan causes him to be a favoured authority in Japan itself, rather than just the West; Dr. David Smith has not only committed himself to a deep and continuing dialogue with the Dikshita priests of Cidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu, but is currently writing a book criticising Western notions of modernity from Hindu perspectives; and Dr. Hiroko Kawanami and Dr. Ram-Prasad constantly seek to relate their cultural origins (as Japanese Buddhist and Indian respectively) to their expertise in Buddhism and other Indic traditions.
However, these area experts are not working in isolation. Dr. Ram-Prasad and Prof. Ian Reader are working with Dr Paul Fletcher, Lecturer in Christian Studies, to develop a comprehensive research project on religion, culture and governance whose explicit aim is to provide a global picture that decentres Western concerns (and, as the first stage of the project, focuses on the unique lessons of India’s stable, pluralistic democracy). Ms Linda Woodhead, Senior Lecturer in Christian Studies, is in fact writing up her doctorate on the ‘Religious World of Rabindranath Tagore’ (with Dr. Julius Lipner at Cambridge). Uniquely among British universities (and one of a handful in the world), our department is going to have from next year a balanced – and equal – programme of Indian and Western Philosophy of Religion, run by Dr. Ram-Prasad and Dr.Gavin Hyman. These are examples of the rich interaction between the traditions in the department.
In teaching and in research, Asian traditions in general and Indic ones in particular, are given full importance within a balanced, global view of religious traditions.
The proposal is meant to encourage overseas students, particularly from Asia itself, to undertake the study of Indic and other Asian religions at the postgraduate level. The aim of the scholarships is to provide such students with rigorous training in and sound knowledge of the Asian traditions, such that they can take with them in a way that contributes to more reflective understanding of the traditions. It might be possible also to offer scholarships to non-Asian overseas students, in which case the aim will be to widen their perception of Asian religions and sensitize them to the richness, depth and diversity of contributions to global culture.
Four scholarships to offset a substantial portion of total expenses are to be offered for study in Asian religions (with a component devoted to Indic traditions), two for a one-year M.A. and two (renewable) for two/three years of a Ph.D.