Dalai Lama's professorship resonates with Emory students

By Elaine Justice | Spirited Thinking | Oct. 15, 2013

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Students in Wesley Longhofer's "Business and Society" class welcomed a special guest lecturer. Emory Photo/Video.

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama visited the Emory University campus Oct. 8-10, his third as Presidential Distinguished Professor, and while he referred humorously to himself as a "hopeless professor," it is clear that among students he is among the most revered of spiritual leaders.

"Millennials were born into popular culture, and the Dalai Lama is already known to them," says Gary Laderman, chair of Emory's Department of Religion and an expert on religion and culture. "There's something about his image that is so familiar and comfortable and well known; that may be part of his popularity."

Young people also identify with the Dalai Lama's message, which seems a refreshing change from rigidity or orthodoxy. "When they read about the Dalai Lama being open to Western science, and saying if science contradicts ancient beliefs or practices, then he will change, that resonates with them," says Laderman.

Emory students had several opportunities to hear from the Dalai Lama, who began the week with a public lecture and panel forum in a nearby suburban Atlanta arena, then spent another two days with faculty and students from across the university in lectures, seminars, cultural exchanges and classroom visits.

The theme of his latest Emory visit was ethics and education, and specifically secular ethics, also the theme of his book, "Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World."

For Patrick McBride, the visit had special meaning, he told Emory Report. "I took a business ethics class through the Philosophy Department my freshman year, and took this class because I thought it would be interesting to see business ethics from a business standpoint," explains McBride, a senior in information systems and operations management.

He was not disappointed: "It brought my Emory education full circle, being able to take one topic and see it from two different perspectives," adds McBride. "Then to have the Dalai Lama here, in an intimate setting, asking him questions that are really relevant to us — that's almost surreal."

"Here is this spiritual leader who millions follow. And right now, if you go to (the Dalai Lama's) Facebook page, you'll find a picture of him here, with a class at Goizueta Business School … that's really, really cool."