William LaFleur

William LaFleur Named Alumnus of the Year 2002


The Board of Trustees of the Baptist Theological Union has named Dr. William R. LaFleur the Divinity School's Alumnus of the Year for 2002.

Dr. LaFleur is the E. Dale Saunders Professor in Japanese Studies in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

He received his B.A. in English literature from Calvin College in 1957, his M.A. in comparative literature from the University of Michigan in 1963, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in the history of religions from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1970 and 1972, respectively. His work at Chicago was guided primarily by the late Professor Joseph M. Kitagawa. He has taught at Princeton, UCLA, and Sophia University in Tokyo.

Dr. LaFleur's work revolves around the relationship between Buddhism and culture in medieval Japan, and the relationship between religious and social issues in modern and contemporary Japan. It has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, and the Japan Foundation. He was the first non-Japanese to be awarded the Watsuji Tetsurô Culture Prize for scholarship. One of his edited books, Zen and Western Thought (University if Hawaii Press, 1985) by Masao Abe, was awarded a prize by the American Academy of Religion.

Dr. LaFleur's books include Mirror for the Moon: Poetry by Saigyô 1118-1190 (New Directions, 1978); The Karma of Words: Buddhism and the Literary Arts in Medieval Japan (University of California Press, 1983); Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan (Princeton University Press, 1992); and Awesome Nightfall: The Life, Death, and Poetry of Saigyô (Wisdom Publications, 2003). He has edited Dôgen Studies (University of Hawaii Press, 1985); and coedited, with James Sanford and Masatoshi Nagatomi, Flowing Traces: Buddhism in the Literary and Visual Arts of Japan (Princeton University Press, 1992). His reviews, articles, and essays have appeared in a range of publications from The Los Angeles Times to the Chanoyu Quarterly. In addition, Dr. LaFleur has published original poetry in such publications as Poetry L.A. and The Literary Review.

Current projects include a volume, coedited with Susanne Formanek, entitled Practicing the Afterlife: Perspectives from Japan, due out in 2004, and a study of bioethics in Japan. He is a fellow at Penn's Center for Bioethics and does collaborative research with colleagues both in Europe and Japan.

Dr. LaFleur will deliver his Alumnus of the Year Address, "Buddhism, Ethics, and Heuristic Fear," at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, 2003, in Swift Lecture Hall.