Essays on Buddhism honor PSU professor

By Anne Danahy, Centre Daily, Nov 27, 2005

State College, PA  (USA) -- Charles Prebish could have been a doctor checking your mouth for cavities. Instead, the Penn State professor of religious studies is an internationally recognized expert on Buddhism. So much so that Routledge recently published a book of essays to honor him.

The book, "Buddhist Studies from India to America: Essays in Honor of Charles S. Prebish," is a festschrift -- German for written work in honor of a scholar or professor. The book celebrates Prebish's birthday and his 35 years in the field.

Prebish said in an e-mail that the book's chapters were written by people whose work he has influenced and those who have influenced his work. Scholars from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia wrote the 17 essays.

"My first encounter with Buddhism was as a senior at what was then called Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland," Prebish said. "I was a chemistry major, on my way to dental school. I took a course on Buddhism because I was curious about other religious traditions.

"Having been raised in a Jewish family, virtually everything about Buddhism was different: the world view, ideas, texts, practices. I was overwhelmed and instinctively knew I was home."

Prebish signed up for dental school, but eventually left to continue studying Buddhism. In graduate school, he enjoyed reading Buddhist texts in Sanskrit and Pali. Since then, his interests have grown to include Buddhism and ethics.

In addition to teaching at Penn State, Prebish has published 17 books and more than 50 refereed articles. According to a university news release, he was instrumental in creating "Western Buddhism," a sub-discipline of Buddhist studies.

In 1994, he and Damien Keown, professor at the University of London, started the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Prebish said it is the first online, peer-reviewed electronic journal in religious studies. The two also edit "Critical Studies in Buddhism," a series published by Routledge in England, and published an eTextbook in Buddhist Studies.

Prebish said he plans to retire in June 2007. That fall, he'll go to the University of Calgary, where he will hold the Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies for a semester for the second time.