Jan Willis, PhD, is professor emerita of religion at Wesleyan University, where she taught courses in Buddhist religion and philosophy since 1977. She is one of the earliest American scholar-practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, having studied Buddhism with Tibetan teachers for more than forty years, including as one of the first western students of Lama Thubten Yeshe. Jan discovered dharma as a path to healing the trauma of racism growing up in the segregated south, and has forged paths for the integration of Buddhism and social and political justice.
She is the author of the memoir Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist (2001) and scholarly and popular works on Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race. She has been on short lists and profiled by Time, Ebony, and Newsweek.
In the Fall of 2017, Jan Willis offered a three-week course at Maitripa College entitle “Making the Invisible, Visible: The Other Side of ‘Perfect’: A Multi-media and Interactive Exploration of Race and Racism in the US,” as well as a public talk. The intention of the course was, in the safety and sanctity of a Buddhist environment, to explore the deep and troubling issues of race and racism in our country and in our lives. The course explored such questions as: “How does Buddhism help us to recognize our biases?” and “How does it provide meaningful solutions?” In Fall 2019, Professor Willis co-taught “Women in Buddhism” and offered a public talk to the community.