Institutes & Initiatives

About the Program

The Thích Nhất Hạnh Program for Engaged Buddhism (TNHEB) promotes academic and public education aimed at cultivating diverse Buddhist responses to pressing social issues. It seeks to generate innovative and informed discourse on topics, such as violence, climate change, racism, poverty and economic inequality, incarceration, gender and sexuality, religious pluralism, and the intersection of contemplative practice and social action.

Master of Divinity in Buddhism and Interreligious Engagement (M.Div. BIE)
The M.Div. BIE is a 78 credit, three-year professional graduate degree that allows students to pursue Buddhist ministry and chaplaincy within an interreligious, socially engaged context.. This degree prepares individuals for diverse leadership roles working with and in Buddhist communities as well as bringing Buddhist practices and principles to communities that may not identify as Buddhist. These roles include religious and spiritual leadership; chaplaincy at universities, hospitals, or prisons; professional counseling; teaching; and careers in interreligious/interfaith cooperation, policy-making, social justice advocacy, journalism, nonprofits, and government.

The M.Div. BIE curriculum engages students in sustained and probing study of Sacred Texts, History, Systematic Theology, Practical Theology and field education. The curriculum has three distinctive features:
Focus on Buddhist tradition and Buddhist practice: The M.Div. BIE provides a solid foundation in the Buddhist tradition. M.Div. BIE students take at least 27 credits (9 courses) that focus on foundational sources, disciplines, practices, diversity, and contextual realities of the Buddhist tradition and Buddhist practice.

  1. A focus on interreligious engagement sustains exposure to other religious traditions and interreligious engagement. Students are required to take at least 16 credits (5 courses) on Christianity, another religious tradition, and the theory, methods, and approaches of interreligious engagement.
  2. Focus on social disparities: In keeping with Union’s broader curricula, the M.Div. BIE intentionally engages social disparities based on gender, race, class, sexuality, and other marginalizing forces. Integrated into many courses, the goal is to cultivate an ability to respond to these disparities with analytic rigor, historical consciousness, sensitivity to tradition, equanimity and compassion.
  3. Students are able to take courses at Union and at other neighboring institutions with which Union has existing cross-registration agreements, including the Graduate School of Columbia University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Fordham University. In addition, students can enhance their experience through thesis projects, guided reading courses, internships, and field and CPE placements at relevant sites.


Public Lecture and Conference Series
TNHEB offers at least two major public events related directly to Buddhism, social action and interreligious contemplative engagement each year. These events take the form of panels with multiple participants, one-day colloquia, artistic performances, small conferences or invited lectures by prominent voices in the fields.

“Buddhism in the Public Square”
TNHEB organizes workshops, conferences and other events that bring together a small, interdisciplinary, and intergenerational cohort of New York-based scholars, dharma teachers, community organizers and social activists who are interested in critically engaging questions of Buddhism, academic and public scholarship, the intersection of contemplative practice and social justice and the seminary’s role in Buddhist community organizing and activism. These workshops aim to establish ongoing conversations and networks across New York City academic institutions, Buddhist centers, community-based organizations and activists.

An example of this in action was our February 3rd event, Buddhist Action: Morals, Vision, Action, where 225 engaged Buddhists met at Union to begin organizing a coalition of Buddhist individuals and organizations able to respond effectively to social injustice, violence and the increasing anti-democratic climate of our nation. This meeting gave birth to the Buddhist Action Coalition, a community of engaged Buddhists who organize in the New York region in coordination with broader national efforts. Union students are invited to participate in this ongoing gathering of scholars, dharma teachers and organizers who meet regularly at UTS to discuss and organize around these issues.

Engaged Buddhist Leaders Program
The Engaged Buddhist Leaders Program creates multi-day conferences for leaders in Engaged Buddhism who serve or intend to serve in religious, scholarly, community, or social leadership capacities. With a focus on bringing together dharma teachers whose voices and mutual exchange may not be regularly supported for reasons of gender, race and class, the program aims to nurture a community of dialogue among diverse Buddhist leaders; to foreground participants’ engagement of various aspects of the Buddhist tradition (including exegetical, ethical, spiritual and theological methods and approaches); and to cultivate more detailed knowledge around specific themes of contemplative action and social justice.

Advisory Council
TNHEB activities are planned in consultation with the members of its Advisory Council. Members of the Advisory Council are selected based upon academic expertise, experience as leaders in the field of socially engaged Buddhism, and experience in interreligious engagement.

Thich Nhat Hanh '63 Awarded Union Medal

On September 6, 2017, Union awarded Thich Nhat Hanh—internationally celebrated Zen Buddhist monk, dharma teacher, scholar, author, and peace activist—with the Union Medal. Sister Chan Duc, an emissary from Plum Village, the monastery Nhat Hanh founded in France, accepted the medal on his behalf.

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Past Events

Black & Buddhist in America

This unprecedented public gathering brought together 15 leading Buddhist teachers of black African descent from across the country to talk about dharma, the state of the world, and what it means to be a black Buddhist in America today.

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Buddhist Action: Morals, Vision, Justice

February 3, 2018
A gathering of New York Area Buddhist practitioners, scholars, activists and teachers.

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Buddhism, Love, and Politics

November 1, 2017
A conversation featuring Sharon Salzberg, angel Kyodo williams, and Robert Wright.

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