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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.

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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.

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