Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Gift Will Support Groundbreaking Buddhist Ministry Initiative at Harvard Divinity School

October 3, 2011
Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Gift Will Support Groundbreaking Buddhist Ministry Initiative at Harvard Divinity School
Buddhist Icon Justin Knight

Harvard Divinity School (HDS) announces a major gift to support and expand its program in Buddhist ministry studies.

The gift will provide exceptional funding to enhance and expand the strength of the School's current offerings and will help to form a new generation of students who will make a lasting impact in Buddhist communities.

The Buddhist Ministry Initiative—the first of its kind at a divinity school within a research university—will be supported by a generous $2.7 million gift from The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, a private philanthropic organization engaged in strategic, sustainable, and long-term projects in Hong Kong and around the world.

The teaching of Buddhist ministry at HDS will offer Buddhist insights, textual traditions, and practices to students from all religious traditions who study ministry at the School; will allow future Buddhist religious professionals to be trained in terms appropriate to modern, global conditions; and will support the field education of these students in hospitals and other sites of pastoral care.

"The Ho Family Foundation's gift presents an exceptional set of opportunities for the Divinity School," said Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies at HDS. "It places the study of ministry in Buddhism in a larger academic framework of Buddhist studies; it allows students who are studying ministry in Buddhist contexts to be part of an already well-developed program of progressive religious and socially engaged ministry that has been in place at HDS for many decades; and it also allows the larger HDS ministry program to expand its own horizons and methods by virtue of the contributions from a rich array of resources in Buddhist literature, thought, practices, and communities."

The Ho Family Foundation fund will support an eight-year initiative in the study of ministry in Buddhism that reflects the traditional strengths of Harvard Divinity School's existing pedagogical methods and offerings in ministry preparation. It will include coursework in Buddhist ministry studies and lectures in leadership and ministry arts. It will also support field education and provide resources for conferences in the topic of ministry in Buddhism, as well as student services for master of divinity degree candidates who are focusing on Buddhism. The initiative will cover five areas: faculty support, an annual lecture series, field education, international fellowships, and a triennial conference.

"We are very happy to have new, significant funding from The Ho Family Foundation to undergird and expand our program to train leaders for Buddhist communities in North America, and to do so with the ability for our students to gain experience in Buddhist-majority countries of Asia and for Asian Buddhist students to come to Cambridge," said William A. Graham, Dean of Harvard Divinity School.

This further development of resources for the study of Buddhist ministry at HDS builds on the School's current strength in ministry leadership preparation; its unique faculty resources—both at HDS and across Harvard—in the academic study of religion and Buddhist studies; and the quality and diversity of its exceptional student body.

Harvard Divinity School has long been regarded as a leader for its progressive ministry programs and for excellence in the academic study of religion. The School's horizons expanded further in 2004 when it implemented a revised master of divinity curriculum with global reach. This important rethinking of the School's approach to ministry studies has made it possible for students to prepare for ministry and careers as leaders in diverse religious traditions.

"When Harvard Divinity School revised its master of divinity program in the middle of the last decade, one of the most far-reaching convictions of the new program's architects was that students preparing for ministries in different religious traditions—studying together, sitting side-by-side in many of the same classes, and engaging in less formal conversations, even as they were preparing to minister in their own religious traditions—would be transformed in deep and unforeseen ways by their encounters," said Dudley C. Rose, associate dean for ministry studies and Lecturer on Ministry at HDS.

"To state it simply, we saw Harvard's long-standing commitment to students' learning about other religious traditions becoming also a commitment to students' learning from other religious traditions. The Ho Family Foundation's gift affords us extraordinary resources and opportunities to expand Buddhist ministry and further accomplish a central vision for ministry preparation at Harvard. Its impact on Buddhist and all our other ministry students is incalculable."

There are growing numbers of students of ministry at HDS enrolling in the Buddhist ministry courses already offered at the School, and HDS continues to see an increasing number of students who matriculate at the School with explicit career goals in Buddhist ministry. The new initiative will offer knowledge and insight for students from other religions and will expand on Harvard Divinity School's larger mission of developing a "learned ministry," defined as religious leaders who are deeply and intellectually engaged with at least one tradition other than their own.

Buddhist ministers and teachers are taking a leadership role today in the development of new methods for hospital and prison chaplaincy, forms of psychotherapy, hospice work, and the social action sectors of ministry. Students interested in these and other kinds of Buddhist ministry will benefit enormously from the well-developed, multifaith programs in progressive ministry already in place at HDS. Likewise, students and faculty in Buddhist ministry who come to the School as part of the developing initiative will have a great deal to contribute to the larger ministry program at HDS.

The Buddhist Ministry Initiative will allow the School to build connections to similar developments in the Buddhist world in Asia. Buddhist seminaries abound in countries like Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and others, and many social services and traditions of counseling and social action are being developed in line with Buddhist values and practices.

"A special hope for the program is to be able to forge mutually edifying and beneficial relationships with programs and practitioners of ministry in Buddhist institutions in Asia," explained Gyatso.

The Ho Family Foundation is making $5.2 million in grants to Harvard University and to Stanford University, which, in their combined purpose and effect, are unprecedented as donations to major U.S. universities. The grant to HDS expands the Foundation's global network of Buddhist learning by creating its first link with Harvard and will break new ground by establishing a more profound connection between academic Buddhist scholarship and Buddhist practice.

Robert Y. C. Ho stated, "The Ho family began working 10 years ago to build a global network of Buddhist learning, even before the Foundation was formally established. We believe that a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy can help nurture creativity, encourage greater integrity and ingenuity in confronting challenges and foster effective and positive change, both for individuals and for societies. We are pleased to provide lead support for Harvard University's Buddhist Ministry Initiative, adding to the global network of Buddhist learning."

To learn more about Harvard Divinity School, please visit More information about the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and its activities may be found at

—by Jonathan Beasley