February 3, 2012

Indian ministry endows new professorship

In an agreement with the Indian government, the U of C has pledged to create the Swami Vivekananda Visiting Professorship, honoring the Hindu leader’s influence. The permanent professorship will be funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Indian Ministry of Culture.

Both parties sealed the agreement at the International House last Saturday, with several members of the Indian government present, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The professorship will bring a distinguished scholar to the University for one quarter each year to honor Vivekananda’s legacy by teaching, researching, and speaking about Indian history. The professor will teach several classes on South Asia, with at least one class open to undergraduates, and give one lecture on issues related to the region.

Martha Roth, dean of the Division of the Humanities, said that the University hopes to have the first visiting professor here in the spring of 2013.

Indian ambassador to the U.S. Nirupama Rao also mentioned the benefits of the long-standing partnership between India and the University of Chicago.

“The year 2012 will be a specific marker of our strengthening relations, and the setting up of the Vivekananda chair here…will go a long way in our mutually rewarding and durable partnership,” Rao said.

The professorship will commemorate the 150th birthday of Swami Vivekananda, an influential Hindu priest who raised the profile of Hinduism in America. He gave his most famous speech in 1893 in Chicago, imploring attendees to show religious tolerance and engage in interfaith dialogue.

“Vivekananda’s speech at the World Congress of Religions in 1893 had an enormous impact in the United States and the desire was to in fact have this professorship here at Chicago precisely because of that reason,” Roth said.

Mukherjee said that Vivekananda was responsible for inspiring a curiosity about Eastern cultures in the West.

“The great interest in the spiritual traditions of the East that we see in the West today is in substantive measures directly attributable to Swami Vivekananda,” Mukherjee said.

The University and Indian Ministry of Culture have been in conversation with each other for almost two years about honoring Vivekananda in the city where he gave his most famous speech. Mukherjee said that other organizations and ideas honoring Vivekananda were considered, but ultimately the Indian government decided that “the proposal of the University of Chicago, that has the distinction of being one of the great centers of learning, would be the most befitting to enshrine the universal values that Swami Vivekananda professed.”