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Univ. of Chicago Buddhism scholar gets national honor with Obama, Hanks, others

Matthew Kapstein — a University of Chicago Buddhist philosophy scholar — joins former President Barack Obama and Tom Hanks among the new inductees in the prestigious American Academy of Arts & Sciences. | University of Chicago

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences — the name might sound dull. But its members represent some of the nation’s sharpest and most interesting people in academia, the arts, politics and beyond — this year’s inductees include a Buddhism scholar working in Chicago.

The academy, founded in 1780, has included some big names, among them Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Darwin, Margaret Mead, Albert Einstein and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Membership is honorary. But the group serves as something of a think tank whose “projects and publications generate ideas and offer recommendations to advance the public good.”

Along with luminaries like former President Barack Obama and actor Tom Hanks, its newest members include Matthew Kapstein, a University of Chicago professor who “specializes in the history of Buddhist philosophy in India and Tibet.”

Kapstein says he’s “had the pleasure to meet the Dalai Lama intermittently” over the past 40 years. He was in a delegation that accompanied the Tibetan spiritual leader on a trip to Israel in the 1990s.

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