Jane Naomi Iwamura: Leader and Light at UWest

Published : Tuesday, February 24, 2015 | 5:17 PM

It’s always so gratifying to sit down with an accomplished and intelligent woman in the academe to learn about her ideas and thought processes. Here in Pasadena Now, we are privileged to have scored an interview with such woman. Her name is Jane Naomi Iwamura, Chair of the Religious Studies Department and Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the University of the West, a contemporary university in the city of Rosemead with strong Buddhist roots.

Iwamura, who received her PhD from Berkeley and her Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, has been teaching for the past 15 years. “My own work focus is mainly in two areas, one is religion and popular culture and the other area is in Asian-American religions, as how religion is practiced among Asians here in the US,” said Iwamura.

Her extensive research on the intersection between religion and popular culture is funneled into her book, Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture. “When I started the project, I was really interested in understanding why Americans especially were so fascinated by the Dalai Lama, and why they seem to have this kind of draw towards Buddhism and other Asian religions. And I found that pop culture had a lot to do with that,” added Iwamura.

Buddhism, incidentally, is a subject of interest and the core essence of University of the West, where she has been teaching for the past three years.

“We offer a Masters in Religious Studies, PhD, Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies and our new degree is Doctor of Theology and Applied Buddhist Studies which we’re really excited about,” said Iwamura about her program and department. “The unique thing about studying religion at University of the West is that most of our faculty’s research teaching focuses in the area of mainly Buddhism but also Asian religions, like Chinese religions. But here, our focus is really on Asian religions and Buddhism and it makes it a very unique place,” Iwamura said.

In fact, when Iwamura first came to UWest, she was surprised that the school had Buddhist monastics from all over the world and from different traditions. “When I came here there were monastics from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan, and China,” Iwamura said.

As chair, Iwamura is always busy mapping out programs and drafting plans for the department and the school. She is currently busy preparing for the arrival of Dr. Lewis Lancaster, Buddhist studies scholar and professor emeritus from UC Berkley, for the school’s Spring Lecture Series that is co-sponsored by the Hsi Lai Temple. “He also was our former president here at UWest, and he’s speaking about the future of Buddhism,” Iwamura said.

There will also be a recognition day for 26 students with high academic honors on February 25 at 1:00 p.m. Iwamura, of course, will be there to award the well deserving students.

University of the West is located at 1409 Walnut Grove Avenue, Rosemead. For more information, call (626) 571-8811 or visit www.uwest.edu.

 

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