LA Based Foundation Donates Millions to Establish Chair of Hindu Studies at USC

Celebration of USC's new endowed chair in Hindu studies

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Los Angeles – The Indian American community is honoring Swami Vivekananda on his 150th birth anniversary with the establishment of the first chair of Hindu studies at one of the top universities in the United States.

The $3.24 million gift from the Los Angeles based Dharma Civilization Foundation to the School of Religion, housed within the University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, will establish the Swami Vivekananda Visiting Faculty in Hindu Studies and the Dharma Civilization Foundation Chair in Hindu Studies, according to USC.

“USC has a long history of welcoming and embracing people from a wide variety of cultures and creeds, backgrounds and beliefs,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias said.

“We’re home to more student religious groups than any university in the nation. Now we are very proud to house the first chair of Hindu studies in the United States endowed by the Indian-American community,” said Nikias.

Terming it an “historic gift to the USC School of Religion,” Duncan Williams, chair of the School of Religion and one of few ordained Buddhist priests to chair a religious studies department in the US, said it highlighted, “the department’s commitment to study the enduring questions of human life and values from a global perspective.”

Selecting USC because of its tradition of reflecting the values of its community both locally and globally, the Dharma Civilization Foundation stated, “There is a profound wisdom tradition embedded in Hinduism, and we humbly believe Hinduism can make a valuable contribution to global problems and challenges,” adding, “An accurate portrayal and study of Hinduism will be important not only for Hindus, but for the world.”

In 2011, Nikias led a delegation of university faculty, administrators and trustees, including USC Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni, to India. There, along with USC alumni, they met with key Indian partners in higher education, business and government to build sustainable alliances in the areas of medicine and health care, neurosciences, the arts, communication and journalism, business, and technology and engineering.

Recognizing USC as “a leader in the study of Asian religions,” Soni said, “This gift makes that goal immediately more attainable. I also believe that this is a watershed moment for the Indian-American community, which has built many Hindu temples in the United States, but has never before endowed an academic program in Hindu studies.”

More than 1,800 Indian students are enrolled at USC, the largest group of Indian students on any higher education American campus.

Pavitra Krishnamani, president of the USC Hindu Student Organization, said the gift will let students discover, or rediscover, the religion.

“Growing up in a melting pot like America, it is important for second generation US Hindus like me to know their roots,” Krishnamani said, adding, “I am proud to see USC’s School of Religion taking the initiative to encourage USC students to cultivate their knowledge about Hinduism and get more involved in creating a Hindu community on campus.”

Based in Los Angeles, the Dharma Civilization Foundation aims to fund studies of the Indic civilization, focusing on the Dharmic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Their objective is to promote Dharma education through research scholarships, degree courses and endowed chairs.

Hinduism has approximately 1 billion followers, making it the third-largest religion in the word after Christianity and Islam. (IATNS) 

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