Ajay and Mira Shingal, an Indian-American couple has gifted $4.4 million to the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) of Berkeley to establish and endow the first Centre for Dharma Studies in the U.S. Ajay and Mira Shingal chose the GTU for their historic gift because “this is a school that incorporates both deep scholarship and interest in the practice of religion”.
“We understand the need for accredited scholars that can speak about Hinduism with authority in this country,” said the San Jose residents. Both have studied the sacred texts of Hinduism all of their lives and wish for others to be able to explore in depth the treasures of its sacred texts and philosophical principles. They believe the gift of education is one of the greatest gifts one generation can create for future generations, according to a media release.
The Centre will focus on leading edge, multidisciplinary, graduate research and teaching in Hindu Studies and Dharma Studies. The GTU currently offers a graduate certificate in Hindu Studies, MA and PhD degree concentrations in Hindu Studies, and courses in Jain Studies.
The Mira and Ajay Shingal DCF Centre for Dharma Studies will support and strengthen these programmes, and is designed to include in the future other religions or systems of thought and practice that self-identify as dharma traditions. The Centre will also host international conferences, produce resources for the benefit of the general public, and foster research on the resources of religion in engagement with major global challenges faced by humanity.
GTU offers the largest doctoral program in interreligious studies in the US. The new Centre for Dharma Studies is the latest addition to a complex of more than twenty member schools and academic centres at the GTU that together focus on the major religious and wisdom traditions of the world.
Rita Sherma has been named the first Director of the Centre for Dharma Studies and Associate Professor of Dharma Studies. She taught most recently at the University of Southern California as the Swami Vivekananda Visiting Faculty in Hindu Studies. Sherma is the founding Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Dharma Studies.
The Centre will also become part of the GTU’s exploration of how religion can positively impact major challenges faced by the world, including religiously spawned conflict, climate change and environmental degradation, and other issues of justice. A consortium of independent theological schools, GTU is home to the largest PhD programme in religious studies in North America. It includes eight seminaries – two Roman Catholic, five Protestant, and one Unitarian Universalist.