Buddhist Scholar and Author

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Jan Willis is Professor Emerita of Religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Born in Docena, Alabama in 1948 and profoundly affected by the Civil Rights movement, she majored in philosophy at Cornell University and met Buddhism while traveling in Asia in the 1970s. She went on to earn her PhD in Indic and Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and has studied with Tibetan Buddhists in India, Nepal, Switzerland, and the U.S. for over four decades. The author of several books and numerous articles and essays on Buddhist philosophy and history, meditation, women and Buddhism and Buddhism and race, her memoir Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist was first published in 2001. In December of 2000, TIME magazine named Willis one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium.” In 2003, she was a recipient of Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. In September of 2005, Newsweek‘s “Spirituality in America” issue included a profile of her and, in its May 2007 edition, Ebony magazine named Willis one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans. (Links to books below.)

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Editorial Reviews of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist by Jan Willis


“Jan Willis’s book is a compelling, beautiful, and informative guide for anyone interested in transformation. She skillfully weaves together her personal story and the Buddha’s teaching, evoking the reality of walking a path to liberation.” (Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness)

“A truly uplifting book of personal empowerment and the triumph of human heart. This remarkable book touches upon themes that every genuine pilgrim – especially those who seek to integrate their cultural and religious heritage with newfound personal spiritual path – must address at some point in their journey.” (Thupten Jinpa, founder of the Institute of Tibetan Classics, and personal translator for the Dalai Lama.)

“Willis delivers a gripping, intimate account of her spiritual journey that will move anyone who is compelled by the examined life.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“Destined for the same shelf as Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace, this is a powerful memoir of a “Baptist Buddhist” who writes with courage, compassion, and forgiveness. This searching memoir is recommended for all collections.” (Library Journal, starred review)

“Willis is a philosopher with a bold agenda.” (TIME)

“Jan Willis’s honest, lucid, mindful, and heartful account of her amazing life thus far, its struggles and woundings, its triumphs and joys, is certainly the roar of a lioness of truth-awakening, empowering, inspiring! Listen to it with pride and pleasure!” (Robert Thurman, author of Inner Revolution)

“Willis writes frankly about family, race, spirituality, and finding grace among life’s most difficult challenges. Dreaming Me is more honest and fascinating than anything I’ve read in a long time.” (David Pesci, author of Amistad)

“Intensely felt…highly personal…A moving story that aims to reconcile the experiences of faith and racism.” (Kirkus Reviews)