“What does Buddhism Offer an African-American Woman?” with Jan Willis

Episode 87:

Originally broadcast: January 10, 2016

Jan Willis was raised in the Jim Crow south and had crosses burnt on her lawn when she received a scholarship for Cornell University. But her life didn’t just take her through the civil rights movement and the Ivy League, it also took her to India which led her to become a professor of Buddhism and a practicing Buddhist. How did her new religion fit with her Baptist upbringing? How does being a religious scholar relate to being a practitioner? Should we think of Buddhism as an “Eastern” religion with little to do with Western philosophy? On this next episode of Why?, we’ll ask these and other related questions, as we talk memoir, belief, and religious experience with a foremost scholar of Tibetan Buddhism.

Janice D. Willis is Emerita Professor of Religion and East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University. One of the earliest American scholar-practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, Willis has published numerous essays and articles on Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race. She has studied with Tibetan Buddhists in India, Nepal, Switzerland and the U.S. for four decades, and has taught courses in Buddhism for 32 years. In December 2000, “Time” magazine named Willis one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium.” In 2003, she was a recipient of Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching, and she was profiled in a 2005 “Newsweek” article about “Spirituality in America.” The text of this episode’s monologue can be found here at our blog, PQED.

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