Life After Buddhist Studies
Students at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, Hampshire
colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst now have the option of pursuing
a certificate in Buddhist studies through Five Colleges, Inc. Drawing on courses
from all of the campuses, the certificate encourages students to take an interdisciplinary
approach to learning about Buddhism. Classes may be taken in anthropology, art history,
religion, philosophy and appropriate languages.
Inevitably, though, the student who spends her college
years exploring Buddhism will confront the question “What can you do with a
degree in Buddhist studies?” Smith professor Jay Garfield says some students
enroll immediately in graduate or divinity school. Others have become involved with
nongovernmental organizations serving people in traditionally Buddhist societies.
Among those leading what he calls “ordinary” lives is a former student
currently teaching real estate law.
Each January about 15 Five College students participate in
the Tibetan Studies in India exchange program. Among the 2007 group were Smith student
Taylor Hengen ’07J
(left) along with students from Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges and the University
of Tasmania. They were photographed at Vulture Peak, a small mountain outside Rajgir,
which is a traditional Buddhist pilgrimage site. Photo courtesy Jay Garfield.
Jason Bauer-Clapp, an assistant director in Smith’s
Career Development Office, says if a Buddhist studies student came in and said she
had no idea what to do after graduation, he would begin the conversation much as
he would with, say, an English major. What influenced the choice of major? What important
insights have been gained from the course of study? What skills have been honed?
In the case of Buddhist studies, he says, those might include textual analysis and
the ability to understand values from multiple perspectives.
Garfield says that for Tibetan students who earn degrees
at Smith or Hampshire through the Five College Tibetan Studies in India exchange
program, the future is similarly wide open.
“The Tibetan students who come to study here
are doing a wide variety of things, too.” Among those, he says, are pursuing
advanced degrees and working for the Tibetan government.