“Thoughts live; they travel far."
“The goal of mankind is knowledge."
          —Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) 

Thanks to a $1.5 million gift from India’s Ministry of Culture, the University of Chicago has established a new chair in Indian studies commemorating the legacy of the Hindu spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda. Beginning in 2013, the Indian Ministry of Culture Vivekananda Visiting Professorship will be awarded to distinguished scholars from various disciplines with an interest in the fields of study most relevant to the teachings of the swami, such as Indian philosophy, politics, and social movements. The professorship, to be administered by the Division of the Humanities, will include a one-quarter teaching commitment and an annual public lecture. 

To celebrate the agreement, Indian and University officials came together January 28 to sign a joint memorandum of understanding (see photo, above). The event—held at International House and transmitted live on the web—featured classical Indian music and dance performances and remarks from India’s finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Ambassador Nirupama Rao.

The steady infusion of visiting scholars will further strengthen South Asian studies at UChicago, said Dean Martha Roth, who hosted the signing ceremony. “The professorship also aligns wonderfully with a number of other recent University initiatives,” she added, including a new scholarship program for Indian MBA students, an exchange that sends students in social service–administration to Mumbai, and active plans to establish a University of Chicago Center in Delhi.

“Just as the Indian Ministry of Culture is today making an investment in us,” said Roth, “we are making a long-term investment in our engagement with India.”

The naming of the chair honors Vivekananda’s ties to the city of Chicago. The Hindu leader “stole the show” when he spoke at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, said Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in history and South Asian languages and civilizations. In 2011, an art installation on the main staircase of the Art Institute of Chicago commemorated his lecture, which is cherished as “a proud moment in Indian history,” according to Ambassador Rao.

Vivekananda traveled the world making spiritual disciples and spreading a message of religious and intellectual tolerance. With the visiting professorship, the Indian government “will help us keep alive the legacy of his struggle,” said Chakrabarty, “to ‘unite the East and West,’ not ‘above the tumult of controversy,’ for knowledge is pushed along by controversies, but by staying right in the middle of that tumult and working through it, as the swami strived to do all his life.”

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