Jan Willis

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Janice Dean Willis
Born 1948
Nationality American
Ethnicity African American
Alma mater BA and MA degrees in philosophy, Cornell University; Ph.D. in Indic and Buddhist Studies, Columbia University
Occupation Professor of Religion
Employer Wesleyan University
Known for Author of books on Tibetan Buddhism
Awards Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching, 2003
Website http://www.janwillis.net

Janice Dean Willis, or Jan Willis (born 1948) is Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, where she has taught since 1977; and the author of books on Tibetan Buddhism. She has been called influential by Time Magazine,[1][2] Newsweek (cover story),[3][4][5] and Ebony Magazine.[6] Aetna Inc.’s 2011 African American History Calendar features professor Willis as one of thirteen distinguished leaders of faith-based health initiatives in the United States.[7][8][9][10]

Willis grew up in Docena, Alabama (near Birmingham), as the daughter of a Baptist deacon and steelworker. While traveling through Asia during the early 1970s, she became the student of Tibetan lama Thubten Yeshe, who encouraged her academic pursuits. She received BA and MA degrees in philosophy from Cornell University (thesis: History, Faith, and Kerygma; A Critique of Bultmann's Existentialist Theology.), and a Ph.D. in Indic and Buddhist Studies from Columbia University (dissertation: A Study of the Chapter on Reality Based Upon the Tattvartha-patalam of Asanga's Bodhisattvabhumi.).

She is the author of the following books:[11]

  • Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey. New York: Riverhead Books, 2001.
  • The Diamond Light: An Introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.
  • On Knowing Reality: The Tattvartha Chapter of Asanga's Bodhisattvabhumi. Columbia UP, 1979.
  • Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition. Wisdom Publications, 1995.
  • Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet. (Editor, and contributor of two of six, essays) Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1989.

Since 2006 she has contributed to the group blog On Faith (sponsored by Newsweek and the Washington Post) alongside Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, and Madeline Albright, among others. In 2003, she was awarded Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.


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