NIU dedicates Burma center

By Moin H. Khan

NIU’s strong commitment to Southeast Asian studies enabled it to beat out several of the nation’s top universities to house the world’s first Center for Burma Studies.

The center will be used to study the culture of Burma, a Southeast Asian country with a population about 38 million. Any information the centers gathers will be available to scholars and students throughout the world.

At the dedication ceremonies last week, NIU President John LaTourette told a Swen Parson Gallery full house the center symbolizes the university’s commitment to the study and understanding of the Southeast Asian cultures.

“I’m hoping this would add to the university’s image in this area,” LaTourette said.

The national association of Burma scholars, known as Burma Studies Group, selected NIU over such universities as the University of Wisconsin the University of Michigan, the Smithsonian Institute and the Institute for Integral and Religious Studies in California, said Richard Cooler, Burma Center director.

Cooler said, “There has been a comprehensive program here under the Center for Southeast Asian Studies since 1963. The creation of the center is the logical outgrowth of the continued interest of NIU in the region.”

ecognized as one of the eight best programs for Southeast Asian studies, the CSAS also is eligible to compete for the $8 million Henry Luce Foundation grant, the largest U.S. provider of private financial support for Southeast Asian studies. The final decision will be made in October.

Cooler said if the CSAS is awarded the grant, the Burma Center might receive some of the money.

Cooler said more than 200 people, including representatives of several Burmese cultural organizations in the United States attended the ceremonies, which were broadcast to Burma via the Voice of America. Fifteen scholars presented papers on Burmese art, culture, history, government, politics, religion and society.

The ceremonies’ keynote speaker was U Nu, Burma’s former prime minister. Nu explained the Buddhists’ view of the NATs, spirits equivalent to the devils and ranked below the Buddha in power and prestige.

Another prominent speaker and visiting professor to NIU was U Than Tun, who received his Ph.D from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies and is a noted historian of Burma.

Burmese artifacts, on exhibit at the dedication, will remain on display at Founders Memorial Library and the Swen Parson Gallery until Aug. 9. Artifacts include texts, paintings, manuscripts, and rare books written in Pali, a language spoken during the time of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.