Meet Dean Scott Mitchell

Gesshin Claire Greenwood  |  September 19, 2019

I’m the Dean of Students and Faculty Affairs. This means I’m chiefly responsible for working with faculty and staff to design curriculum, decide which courses to offer, and support students through the program. I’m also responsible for licensing and accreditation, making sure IBS’s policies are consistent with various laws and that we’re on our way to receiving regional accreditation from WSCUC.

What I think is unique about IBS is our position between the worlds of academic Buddhist studies and Buddhist practice. Every year at graduation, my predecessor and mentor, Richard Payne, used to note how faculty and students were dressed both in academic robes (symbolically representing Western academic traditions) and Buddhist robes (symbolically representing Buddhist monastic traditions). IBS’s programs bring the best of both those traditions into our work in the classroom, in our scholarship, and for the benefit of our students. We take seriously the values of academic freedom and critical inquiry while recognizing the practical applications of our studies, the value of our work for sentient beings and world at large. All in all, I feel very luck and deeply grateful to have this job!

Q: What are you working on now and how have your interests changed over time?

A: When I first started graduate school, I was interested in inter-religious dialogue. But very early in my studies, I discovered the long and often understudied history of American Buddhism generally and Shin Buddhism specifically. Whereas my dissertation focused mostly on contemporary practice, my scholarship lately has turned to the historical.

My current project is a study of a series of publications by the Young Buddhist Association of the Berkeley Buddhist Temple in the 1950s, the Berkeley Bussei. These were, basically, literary journals with essays by Buddhist laypeople and priests, as well as philosophers, poets, play-writes, and artists. I’m interested in exploring what their work has to say about Buddhist modernity and American Buddhism at the transnational intersection of global Buddhist modernity and Japanese American history — and what these conversations can tell us about Buddhism and Buddhist communities in the present.

Q: What were you like as a kid?

A: Nerdy. (Shocking, I know.)

Q: Nerd power! What are your hobbies?

A: Studying Buddhism used to be my hobby, before it was my vocation. Having a young kid at home eats up a lot of my free time. Lately I’ve been trying to swim regularly or ride my bike. And a couple of years ago I started getting back into playing music and bought a drum set. (I’m not quite yet ready to quit my day job and become a rock star.)

Q: What’s one book you think everyone should read on Buddhism? Ok fine, two.

A: The IBS catalog.

Okay, seriously. Donal Lopez’s edited volume Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism is essential reading for anyone who’s interested in academic Buddhist studies. (Janet Gyatso’s chapter on “Sex” is amazing, and Marylin Ivy’s chapter on “Modernity” is an excellent overview of that proverbial elephant in the room.)

If you’re just looking for a solid introduction to Buddhism, Rupert Gethin’s Foundations of Buddhism is a good go-to (especially when paired with Paul Williams’ Mahayana Buddhism). If you looking for a more practice-oriented book, Radical Dharma is, of course, a must read. Oh, and if you’re not following Mushim Ikeda’s work online, you really should!

That’s more than two isn’t it?

Q: That is an awesome list! Anything else you would like us to know?

A: I’m not the most prolific social media user, but if you’re interested, I do occasionally use Twitter and Instagram. And if you haven’t heard, Rev. Harry Bridge and I do an occasional podcast.