Michael Harris, professor of English, will return to India after 30 years to study the birth of Buddhism in the 6th century B.C.E. and its rediscovery during the British colonial era 25 centuries later. He was awarded a Fulbright Grant for his research.
Harris has always been fascinated by religion and history. Before he earned his doctorate at Indiana University, he spent two and a half years in Nepal with the Peace Corps and then traveled throughout India for five months. The experience inspired his dissertation on post-colonial literature. For 20 years at Central, he has taught the literature of former British colonies like India, Kenya, Ireland and many Caribbean islands.
The prestigious Fulbright Grant Scholar Program that sends Harris back to India is difficult to receive. Only 1,200 are awarded to U.S. scholars each year. The grant provides the opportunity for Harris to pursue a career-long interest in Buddhism.
His special focus will be the British scholar Alexander Cunningham, who excavated Buddhist sites in the mid-19th century. At the time, the religion had been gone from India for centuries, and many of the sites had been forgotten or mistaken as Hindu. Cunningham and his colleagues were the first to recognize that these sites belonged to a mainstream religion in East Asia and pinpointed India as the birthplace of Buddhism.
Harris will spend six months in India visiting the sites where Cunningham excavated, now major attractions for pilgrims. When he returns, he hopes to present his research at Asian studies conferences. More importantly, he will use the research to improve the capstone class he teaches at Central about Buddhist traditions in the Himalayas. It’s a dream that was sparked 30 years ago among the people of Nepal and India.
“For me, in a strange way, this is a kind of homecoming,” he says.