Unusual Path, Excellent Destination


Submitted to The Simpsonian

Jed Forman spent seven years as a professional dancer in New York, and now he’s bringing enlightenment and fun to campus.

by Ryan Magalhaes, Staff Reporter

Simpson’s new Buddhism professor Jed Forman spent seven years as a professional dancer in New York, and now he’s bringing enlightenment and fun to campus.

“Buddhism is very anti-realist,” Forman said. “I always had suspicions about that, and when I started learning about Buddhism, it all clicked.”

Forman spent much of his high school years writing about Buddhism, including an oral presentation on Buddhist ideas of permanence. 

While Forman has studied the Buddist texts and done research, he also participates actively in aspects of the culture, including dance.

“When I went to undergrad, I was on an Indian dance team,” he said. “A form of dance called Bhangra.”

Forman also speaks multiple languages including Tibetan, Hindi and Urdu. He can also read Sanskrit, the language many ancient Buddhist texts are written in.

Forman lived in India for 15 months, during which he was able to form connections with many Tibetan Buddhists.

“I just fell in love even more with the Tibetan community in India,” he said. “There’s a big history there.”

Professor of religion and member of the search committee for the Buddhism professor, Jon Kara Shields, said it was his connection to the active practice of religion that helped him earn the position.

“In religion we talk about micro practices and macro practices,” Shields said. Macro practices are big formalized traditions such as attending a congregation or being baptized, she explained. 

“For a lot of religious practitioners, micro practices are just as or more formative,” she explained. “I thought dance would make him more attentive to somatic aspects of religion.”

Forman’s passion for the culture of Buddhism and it’s ideas translates to a passionate teaching style that students say keeps them engaged.

“Jed’s probably one of the best at keeping the class engaged in the topic,” junior David Hollingsworth said. Part of his ability to keep students engaged is dance. “Every once in a while, he’ll do a little pop and lock.”

So far, Forman has only taught five classes, with a May term planned, but he says he wants to continue expanding the Buddhism wing of the religion department.

“I’d love to grow Buddhist studies,” he said. “To eventually grow it to a minor would be wonderful.”

Forman and the rest of the religion department have other ideas for expansion including a closer relationship with a Buddhist temple that recently opened in Indianola.

Shields said the timing of events was quite fortunate.

“That we could get a Buddhist studies scholar and a Buddhist community regularly practicing here is very serendipitous,” she said.

Already Forman has been able to bring one of the monks to campus, both to meet with classes and give speeches, but he wants to go even further.

“His name is Venerable Pammokha,” Forman said, “Longer term, I’d love for him to teach a class at Simpson.”

The final idea for expansion he has is a May term study abroad to India.

“He was really interested in taking students on a study abroad,” Shields said. The prospect of a study abroad both attracted Shields to Forman, but also attracted Forman to Simpson.

“One of the main things that attracted me was Simpson’s interest in study abroad,” Forman said. “Especially during May term.”