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Memorial lecture to honour religious studies professor

Leslie Kawamura_in his office 2009.jpg

The Numata Chair Committee has launched an annual memorial lecture honouring the late Leslie Kawamura, professor of Religious Studies, where a visiting scholar will discuss the intersection of the academic study of Buddhism and personal faith.

Leslie Kawamura, the holder of the Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religious Studies, passed away in March 2011.  He will be honoured in more ways than one during the inaugural lecture of an annual series named for him.

Kawamura, a world-renowned expert in Yogacara Buddhism, was a professor with the University of Calgary for thirty-five years and a Jodo-Shinshu Priest for forty. The balance he achieved between his personal faith and the academic study of that faith is the subject of the first Leslie S. Kawamura Memorial Lecture, to be presented by Jonathan Silk of Leiden University on the evening of September 20. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Kawamura identified Asia, its history and cultures, as a significant subject of study when he came to the University of Calgary in 1976. He introduced the study of Asian religions, Buddhism in particular, into the Religious Studies Department and subsequently initiated numerous programs of Asian Studies within the University, including the Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies, the South Asian and East Asian Studies minor programs, and the Asian Studies Research Group.

“He was absolutely dedicated to the study of Buddhism and to promoting Buddhist Studies in Calgary and beyond,” says Virginia Tumasz, Department Head of Religious Studies. “His legacy is the Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies, an endowed Chair for which he secured funds from the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, an organization founded by Dr. Yehan Numata.  This prestigious Chair, one of only several in North America, ensures that Buddhist Studies will have pride of place here at the University of Calgary in perpetuity.”

Kawarmura’s academic accomplishments are paralleled by his ties to and influence within the Buddhist community in Alberta. He was born in the first Buddhist temple east of the Rockies in Raymond, Alberta to one of the founding families in Southern Alberta’s Japanese community. He later became a Jodo-Shinshu priest while pursuing his academic credentials. He was equally a scholar and a practitioner. For scholars of Religious Studies and religious practitioners alike, this makes his life’s work a fascinating example for examining the relationship between the objective academic study of religion and personal religious belief.

In his September 20 lecture entitled “Toward a Meaningful Academic Study of Buddhism,” Jonathan Silk, professor of Buddhism at Leiden University in the Netherlands, will discuss the relationship between scholarly work and religious practice using Kawamura himself as one example of such a conjunction of perspectives and interests.

"This is a relationship that is often not examined in the academic study of religion", says James Apple, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies. "Within the academic study of religion this relationship is known under the label, 'the insider/outsider problem' and is a relationship that is complex and multiform, not just in the study of religion, but in other areas of the human sciences as well.  Leslie Kawamura's life as a scholar and practitioner is an example of how this relationship can be negotiated successfully.”

The Leslie Kawamura Memorial Lecture: Toward a Meaningful Study of Buddhism

by Jonathan A. Silk, Leiden University
Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 7:30 p.m.
Husky Oil Great Hall, Rozsa Centre, University of Calgary

This event is free.