About the Program
Studying Buddhism within the Interreligious Engagement field at Union allows you to enter into some of the most exciting and challenging conversations of our time. How do we understand social justice through a dharmic lens? How do we engage one another’s faiths and traditions without causing harm? How do we orient spiritually in a time of climate instability? How does one respond skillfully to a world in need of deep healing transformation? At Union, BIE students are able to discern these questions and countless others together with a cohort of Buddhist students while also engaging widely ranging student perspectives across faith traditions. What we have found over the years is that few places are as academically exciting as a Union classroom. We invite you to add your voice to the conversation as we collectively find our way to a more peaceful and just world.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
A More Plural Union
Dr. Simran Jeet Singh describes Union's interreligious engagement programs, interviewing Professor Greg Snyder and students in the Buddhism and Interreligious Engagement M.Div. pathway.Read More
Power & Heart: Black and Buddhist in America
At the first-ever gathering of Buddhist teachers of black African descent, two panels of leading Buddhist teachers took questions about what it means to be a black Buddhist in America today.Read the Q&A
Dr. Kamilah Majied reflects her experiences at The Gathering of Buddhist Teachers of Black African Descent and what it means for humans to be free within ourselves, despite social, political, or “legal” imprisonment or persecution.Read More
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.Read More
Compassion Conversation: Thupten Jinpa and Serene Jones
The Thích Nhất Hạnh Program for Engaged Buddhism and Compassion Institute hosted a conversation with Tibetan Buddhist scholar, translator and author, Thupten Jinpa, and president of Union Theological Seminary, Serene Jones.
Emptiness and Social Action with DaRa Williams
The Buddha spoke of four immeasurable dwelling places of the heart that we now practice called the brahmaviharas. DaRa Williams spoke about how even in the midst of the challenging moments of today, we can rest our heart and develop balance, joy, kindness, and care.Read More
Emptiness and Social Action with Bhante Buddharakkhita
Abbot Ven. Bhante Buddharakkhita discusses how conceptual, inferential, and experiential knowledge into emptiness of an inherent self invites a response to circumstances that are stressful, painful, and violent.
Emptiness and Social Action with Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi
Misunderstanding the teachings and truth of emptiness can lead to apathy, despair or rationalized disinterest. Sincere practice and correct understanding allows us to be truly and skillfully engaged within the world of samsara, without becoming overwhelmed by the suffering we encounter.Read More
Emptiness and Social Action with David Loy
The most important contribution of Buddhism to our situation today is the bodhisattva path, understood in a new way that combines the traditional concern for personal transformation with a commitment to social transformation. Does social engagement distract us from the realization of emptiness, or does emptiness empower social engagement?Read More
Emptiness and Social Action with Bhikku Bodhi
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi draws upon three classical Buddhist sources that deal with the legitimation of political authority: the suttas of the Pali Canon, the edicts of King Asoka, and Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland. He then applies the principles derived from this survey to the present-day question of a government’s obligations to its citizenry.Read More
American Sutra: Buddhism and the WWII Japanese American Incarceration
In the face of discrimination, dislocation, dispossession, and confinement, Japanese Americans turned to their faith to sustain them. American Sutra reveals how the Japanese American community broadened our country’s conception of religious freedom and forged a new American Buddhism.Read More
Emptiness and Social Action with Greg Snyder
The Thích Nhất Hạnh Program for Engaged Buddhism invites you to join us for our monthly Dharma Talk Series: Emptiness and Social Action.
Rohingya Genocide Panel Discussion
Co-hosted by the Buddhist Action Coalition, this conversation focused on the causes and conditions of the crisis, along with the role that Buddhist laity and monastic communities have played in the rhetoric and violence.Read More
A Buddhist Peace Symbol
Rev. Dr. TK Nakagaki, author of "The Buddhist Swatsika and Hitler's Cross; Rescuing a Symbol of Peace from the Forces of Hate," in conversation with Rabbi, author and poet Sheila Peltz Weinberg and Professor Mary Boys.Read More
Exploring Patience and its Strength
April 17, 2019
Ven. Khenpo Pema Wangdak leads a discussion and meditation on the subject of patience.
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.Read More
Buddhist Action: Morals, Vision, Justice
February 3, 2018
A gathering of New York Area Buddhist practitioners, scholars, activists and teachers.
Buddhism, Love, and Politics
November 1, 2017
A conversation featuring Sharon Salzberg, angel Kyodo williams, and Robert Wright.
NYC Vesak Celebration
The Thich Nhat Hanh program and the Buddhist Council of New York partnered for Vesak festivities. Vesak marks the traditional celebration of Buddha’s birthday in countries around the world. Celebrating Vesak involves making special efforts to reduce the suffering of sentient beings who are less fortunate.Read More