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Reflections: Thich Nhat Hanh at Princeton Seminary

Jan 27, 2022

Biographical Sketch of Thich Nhat Hanh at Princeton Theological Seminary

Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the world’s most influential Zen masters, passed away on January 21, 2022, at the age of 95. Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, was born in Dalat, Vietnam on October 11, 1926. His life’s work as a peace advocate, teacher, poet, and activist took him all over the globe, including a brief but influential stay at Princeton Theological Seminary. Beginning in 1961, Nhat Hanh was a visiting student at Princeton Seminary. He applied for acceptance into the Seminary in 1961 and was accepted as a non-degree-seeking student (also referred to as a “Special Student”) for the 1961-1962 academic year. During that time, he was sponsored and supported by the Institute of International Education (IIE), which provided him with a scholarship that covered tuition, fees, and room & board. This funding was rather modest, as noted in a June 1962 letter from Princeton Seminary Dean Elmer G. Homrighausen, but was supplemented by generous donations and gifts from within the Princeton Seminary community. While at Princeton Seminary, Thich Nhat Hanh (known then as Nguyen Xuan Bao) resided in the dormitories in Brown Hall, attending classes with his fellow seminarians. During his year at the Seminary, Nhat Hanh took five courses—two in the Fall semester and three in the Spring semester. According to the official transcript, his main areas of study were world religions and religious history. A copy of this transcript is located in his alumni file in the Seminary Archives.

According to the official appointment for study that Nhat Hanh received from the IIE in 1961, he was granted permission to be in the United States for one academic year. This limitation was part of the reason that he was not accepted as a degree-seeking student: one year was not enough to earn a degree from the Seminary at the time. All programs at Princeton Seminary were a minimum of two years of schooling (the exception to this being in an area of study requiring prerequisites that Nhat Hanh did not have). This being the case, Nhat Hanh was accepted as a “Special Student” at the graduate level, with funding as noted above but with no expectation of a degree upon completion of his one year of study. During the 1961-1962 academic year, numerous attempts were made by Princeton Seminary faculty and administrators (including President John McCord) to help place Nhat Hanh into a long-term academic program at another institution. These included Princeton University, Yale Divinity, and Harvard Divinity, among others. Eventually, Nhat Hanh was accepted at Union Theological Seminary for the 1962-1963 academic year, where he would be able to pursue coursework both at Union and at Columbia University.

While Thich Nhat Hanh’s stay at Princeton Seminary was relatively short, he is still considered an alumnus of the Seminary and a record of his work here was added to the alumni file collection in the Seminary Archives. This file also records some of the great work of Nhat Hanh’s life, highlighting his role as an international peace activist. According to later publications, Nhat Hanh looked back fondly at his time at the Seminary and, in particular, his relationship with his advisor, Prof. Edward Jurji, Professor of Islamics and Comparative Religion. Throughout the years, Thich Nhat Hanh stayed on the radar of faculty and staff of the Seminary and clippings, letters, and other documents related to his work and life were kept as part of his alumni file in the Princeton Theological Seminary Archives.

For more information about the life and work of Thich Nhat Hanh, take note of recently published obituaries in the New York Times and Associated Press.

To learn more about the Princeton Seminary archives, including materials related to Thich Nhat Hanh, please contact the Special Collections and Archives department.

Brian Shetler

Head of Special Collections and Archives


At right: Photo from Nguyen Xuan Bao (Thich Nhat Hanh)’s Princeton Theological Seminary application, March 1961

Below: Read "Reflections on Princeton By a Vietnamese Buddhist" by Nguyen Xuan Bao (Thich Nhat Hanh) published in The Seminarian.

photo from Nguyen Xuan Bao (Thich Nhat Hanh)’s Princeton Theological Seminary application, March 1961

National Day of Racial Healing

Jan 18, 2022

Wright Library, named for abolitionist, pastor and Princeton Theological Seminary alumnus Rev. Theodore Sedgwick Wright, joins the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in recognizing the sixth annual US National Day of Racial Healing.*

"The naming of the library is a milestone in the implementation of a multi-year action plan to repent for the Seminary’s historical ties to slavery." October 13, 2021 press release

Whether your work and/or scholarship brings you to Wright Library or to other libraries or archives, we encourage you to engage with our history to better understand the present and help bring healing. This bibliography offers some reading and listening resources from Wright Library's general and archival collections and beyond.

*The National Day of Racial Healing is part of a larger movement for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT)—a political and cultural framework developed by Dr. Gail Christopher and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jan 14, 2022

In observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Wright Library will be closed on Monday, January 17.

Visit the curated bibliography linked below for local events, books and open access articles from the collection and past lectures honoring the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. King.

ICYMI (in case you missed it)

Jan 4, 2022

In addition to individual e-book titles, Wright Library purchased several databases in 2021, including:

  • Access World News Research Collection (Newsbank)
  • Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries (Bloomsbury)
  • Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Bloomsbury)
  • Black Life in America, Series 1, 2 and 3 (Newsbank)
  • Bloomsbury Religion in North America
  • Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek
  • Civil Rights and Social Justice (HeinOnline)
  • Open Society Justice Initiative (HeinOnlne)
  • Tillich Online (De Gruyter)

All databases available to current Princeton Seminary students are in the A-Z list and those available to Princeton Seminary alumni can be found here on the library website (links below).

Winter Break

Dec 22, 2021

Wright Library closes at noon on Wednesday, December 22, 2021 and will reopen on Monday, January 3, 2022. Have a safe and joyful break and we'll see you in the new year!

New Faculty Book: What makes a church sacred?

Nov 22, 2021

What makes a church sacred? : legal and ritual perspectives from late antiquity by Assistant Prof. Mary Farag is now available in the library collection.

Call Number: BR166 .F37 2021
ISBN: 9780520382008
Publication Date: 2021-11-02

An open access e-book version is also available.

Caught between Justice and Mercy: The Sacred in Late Antiquity (UC Press blog post about the book)

Database Trial: Tillich Online (TILLO)

Nov 8, 2021

Wright Library is pleased to provide trial access to Tillich Online for Princeton Seminary students, faculty and staff.

Tillich Online (TILLO) from De Gruyter is the first bilingual database of the entire work of German-American theologian Paul Tillich (1886–1965) documents the Gesammelte Werke (Collected Works) and the Ergänzungs- und Nachlassbände (Supplementary and Literary Estate Volumes).

Trial access ends 12/3/21.

Native American Heritage Month

Nov 2, 2021

November is Native American Heritage Month.

Browse a curated bibliography of selected titles from the Wright Library collection and find material in Cherokee, Delaware, Navajo, Ojibwa and other languages in the Theological Commons.

You'll also find links to the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries & Museums, and more.

graphic for Native American Heritage Month

Princeton Seminary Names Library After Theodore Sedgwick Wright

Oct 18, 2021

On October 13, 2021, Princeton Theological Seminary held a library dedication service to name the library after Theodore Sedgwick Wright, (Class of 1828).

Rev. Wright was the first African American to graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary. He served as the pastor of the Shiloh Presbyterian Church of New York City (formerly First Colored Presbyterian Church of New York City) from 1829 until his death in 1847. Wright was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society and served as chair of the New York Vigilance Committee, which worked to prevent the kidnapping of free African Americans.

Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries and Dictionary

Oct 13, 2021

This just in! The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries and Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary have been added to the library's online offerings. They are available on Bloomsbury's Theology and Religion Online platform.