December 14, 2018

Hirshberg Presents at American Academy of Religion Meeting

Dan Hirshberg, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Contemplative Studies program, presented a new paper, “Where is my mind? Teaching critical subjectivity at an inclusive university,” for the Contemplative Studies Unit at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion.

The paper highlights the unique features of UMW’s Contemplative Studies program, the roots of which extend back to 1999 with its first practicums offered by Professors David Ambuel and Angela Pitts in 2012, and presently culminates in a minor and two recently approved Special Majors. It then surveys Hirshberg’s contemplative pedagogy for training and sustaining “meta-awareness,” the cognitive ability to establish a critical separation from mental content. Rather than automatically identifying with thoughts and feelings, the meditator centers attention and observes that content as the object of contemplation.

There is consensus in current psychological research that, for many people, mind wandering is closely connected to a range of negative emotional impacts, and that meta-awareness is closely connected to many of meditation’s therapeutic outcomes. Despite the cogency of meta-awareness in the contemporary discourse of the contemplative sciences, its primary functionality is vague and often disputed in classical Buddhist phenomenologies of mind – a topic of Hirshberg’s ongoing textual research.

Hirshberg introduced the acute relevance of these pedagogies for UMW’s current student population, as demonstrated by the results of a 2016-18 controlled study completed with Professors Miriam Liss and Mindy Erchull on UMW’s introductory Contemplative Practice course (CPRD 104). It documents statistically significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and disassociation, and statistically significant increases in attentional awareness, self-compassion, and non-reactivity, among other positive outcomes, for students who completed the course. He also addressed some of the risks of contemplative practice.

The audience of the conference panel (60-80 people) had an especially enthusiastic response to Hirshberg’s design of a contemplative exercise to closely observe the personal impact of smartphones in our present environment.

Hirshberg Presents Paper at International Seminar

Dan Hirshberg, assistant professor of religious studies and associate director of the Leidecker Center for Asian Studies, presented a new paper titled “Padmasambhava the Tibetan: Reflections on Memory and Cultural Identity” for the international seminar, “Perspectives on Padmasambhava,” organized by Columbia University and Skidmore College and held at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City (October 13-15, 2018).

Riffing on the cultural memory theory of Jan Assmann and others, the paper explores the ways in which this historically shady 8th ce. figure renowned as the “Second Buddha” represents the Tibetan construction of an enlightened other, and the ways in which this same figure is being adopted with similar functions in Western Buddhist communities.

The first international seminar focused on Padmasambhava organized in the US took place in conjunction with the exhibition, The Second Buddha: Master of Time, and took the form of a master class in which leading scholars discussed their ongoing research with colleagues, students, and attendees.

Hirshberg’s research is also featured on many of the museum labels for the exhibition.

Hirshberg Publishes Article, Presents at International Conference

Dan Hirshberg, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Associate Director of the Leidecker Center for Asian Studies, published an article titled “Maintaining the Path to Nirvana” in the peer-reviewed Journal of the North American Japanese Garden Association. The manual but meditative labor of garden maintenance has been a daily practice in Japanese Buddhist monasteries for a millennium. Hirshberg’s article aligns the seemingly mundane practice of garden care with instructions in classical Buddhism’s Four Seals of Existence: impermanence, suffering, selflessness, and nirvana.

In addition to this publication, Hirshberg also presented a paper on the installation of UMW’s new Zen garden at the International Meeting of the North American Japanese Garden Association in Portland, OR. Offered for the Advocacy & Outreach panel and titled “Instructions on Interdependence: Garden Installation on a Public Campus,” it surveyed the bureaucratic, financial, contractual, and practical machinations required for the successful completion of our project. The conference drew its audience from twelve countries and featured scholars, professionals, curators, and artists from Japan, the United States, and Canada especially.

Hirshberg Participates in International Research Institute in Japan

Dan Hirshberg, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Associate Director of the Leidecker Center for Asian Studies, and Director of the Contemplative Studies program, participated in the Mind & Life Institute’s first International Research Institute in Kyoto, Japan as a Senior Investigator.

Held at Myoshin-ji, a fourteenth-century Zen monastery, the Institute drew scholars, scientists, professionals, and contemplatives from eleven countries. Its theme was “Contemplative Practice in Context: Culture, History and Science,” exploring meditation in a broadly interdisciplinary, genuinely collaborative, and deeply enriching dialog.

For three decades, the Mind & Life Institute has catalyzed pioneering research and thoughtful interdisciplinary dialogue at the intersection of Buddhist thought, other contemplative wisdom traditions, and the modern Western sciences. Ultimately, their goal is to alleviate human suffering and foster individual and societal flourishing.

Hirshberg Publishes Book Chapter, Presents Paper

Dan Hirshberg, assistant professor of religion, published “The Guru Beyond Time: Padmasambhava in Eight Aspects and Three Exalted Bodies” in The Second Buddha: Master of Time (Kestrel/Penguin), a volume for the current exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. Written for both popular and academic audiences, the chapter focuses on the art and iconography of Tibet’s original cultural hero. Two of Hirshberg’s photographs from Nepal appear in it as well.

Also, on March 24th in Washington D.C., Hirshberg presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies. Focusing on the emergence of an early, ferocious emanation of Padmasambhava, the paper was titled “The Nominal and Iconographical Elaboration of Padmasambhava as the Fierce Guru (Gu ru drag po).” This developed from some of the research undertaken during his Jepson Fellowship year.

Last, at the conference, the Association for Asian Studies awarded Hirshberg its Honorable Mention citation for the E. Gene Smith Book Prize for his recent monograph, Remembering the Lotus-Born (Wisdom 2016).

Elevated Learning

Service takes students to new heights in Nepal

Elevated Learning

Service takes students to new heights in Nepal

Hirshberg Receives Asian Studies Award

Dan Hirshberg, assistant professor of religion, has been awarded Honorable Mention for his first monograph, Remembering the Lotus-Born: Padmasambhava in the History of Tibet’s Golden Age (Wisdom Publications, 2016)from the Association for Asian Studies.

The E. Gene Smith Inner Asia Book Prize, offered annually, honors outstanding and innovative scholarship across discipline and country of specialization for a book on Inner Asia published during the preceding year. There is only one prize, and occasionally one Honorable Mention, awarded each year.

Founded in 1941 and now with over 7000 members world-wide, the Association for Asian Studies is the largest scholarly, non-political, non-profit professional organization of its kind. It is also a member of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).

Contemplative garden brings ‘Zen’ to UMW (Fredericksburg Today)

Hirshberg Gives Paper at McGill University

Dan Hirshberg, assistant professor of religion, delivered a paper titled “Spontaneous Presence: The Rapid Normalization of Padmasambhava’s Iconography in Image (and Text)” at McGill University’s School of Religious Studies (Montréal, Quebec, Canada). Drawn from research he is pursuing for his Jepson Fellowship, this paper focuses on the earliest extant paintings of a renowned 8th ce. master of esoteric Buddhism, and compares them against textual descriptions in Tibetan biographies and liturgies from the same era.