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Indian Americans fund Hindu studies chair in US University

india Updated: Jun 27, 2012 07:29 IST

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An Indian American organisation has made a contribution of $ 3.24 million to establish Swami Vivekananda Visiting Faculty and Dharma Civilisation Foundation Chair in Hindu Studies at a prestigious US university in California.

To be established at the University Of Southern California (USC) School Of Religion with funds from the Dharma Civilisation Foundation, this is the first chair of Hindu studies in the US funded by the Indian American community.

"We are very proud to house the first chair of Hindu studies in the United States endowed by the Indian-American community," the USC President CL Max Nikias said in a statement.

The Los Angeles based Dharma Civilisation Foundation aims to fund studies of the Indian civilisation, focusing on Hinduism, Buddhism, Jain and Sikh religions.

The objective is to promote Dharma education through research scholarship, degree courses and endowed chairs.

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

"This historic gift to the USC School of Religion highlights the department's commitment to study the enduring questions of human life and values from a global perspective," said Duncan Williams, chair of the School of Religion. "There is a profound wisdom tradition embedded in Hinduism, and we humbly believe Hinduism can make a valuable contribution to global problems and challenges," the Dharma Civilisation Foundation stated.

The foundation said USC was selected for this historic gift because of its tradition of reflecting the values of Indian community both locally and globally.

Williams is one of few ordained Buddhist priests to chair a religious studies department in the United States.

He previously served as the Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University and held the Shinjo Ito Distinguished Chair of Japanese Buddhism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Soni is the first university chaplain with a Hindu background.

A member of the State Bar of California, Soni spent time living in a Buddhist monastery in India.

"I 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," Soni said.

"This gift will help distinguish the USC School of Religion by emphasising strengths in areas that don't have a history in divinity schools.

We are looking at things in a global way by creating a religious studies program that isn't biased toward one part of the world," Williams said.

Pavitra Krishnamani, president of the USC Hindu Student Organisation, 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.