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Paul Rouzer, the first Mary Griggs Burke Endowed Chair in Asian Studies, Shares his Vision

May 10, 2019

Portrait of Paul Rouzer.

Portrait of Paul Rouzer.
Photo by Phuong Tran, CLAgency photographer

After the Department of Asian Languages & Literatures received a generous 3 million dollar gift from the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation last spring, a new opportunity for research and academic community-building emerged, and Professor Paul Rouzer became the first Mary Griggs Burke Endowed Chair in Asian Studies. Professor Rouzer plans to expand his research and host a conference to enrich the study of Japanese literature by bringing innovative scholars to the University of Minnesota to share their research.

What is the Mary Griggs Burke Endowed Chair in Asian Studies?

This generous gift enables the Department to pursue new research in Japanese literature, art, and culture. Department Chair Christine Marran thought the creation of a rotating Chair would benefit students because they could experience the research agenda and seminars of cutting-edge scholars. By bringing in scholars from around the world, the University of Minnesota will garner increased visibility in Asian Studies. The goal is to bring in a new Endowed Chair every two years. The gift provides an unprecedented opportunity for gifted scholars to advance their research and collaborate with other scholars in the field.

Professor Rouzer was selected because of his excellent scholarship on classical poetry and Buddhism in East Asia. For over 30 years, he has investigated how the classical Chinese language has been a universal tool of communication in East Asia. Japanese and Korean cultures have often questioned literature written in classical Chinese because it doesn’t seem reflective of their culture. “People have been uneasy with this tradition because it’s a ‘foreign language,’” explains Rouzer. He argues that it isn’t really a foreign language because it was a crucial part of the Japanese education system. Japanese and Korean writers made the literature their own. His own reevaluation of volumes of literature written in classical Chinese by Japanese writers in Japan, and thinking about how they communicate local issues in that language, highlights the relevance of this underrepresented aspect of Japanese culture.

Crafting a Conference 

Professor Rouzer began his role in January 2019 and will remain the Chair until December 2020. His time will provide insight into what can be accomplished in two years and, hopefully, lay the groundwork regarding expectations and responsibilities for future endowed chairs. Ideally, Rouzer hopes the position will provide the opportunity for significant scholars to take time off from their current duties, both teaching and research, to stay at UMN for two years and contribute their knowledge to the University’s students, classrooms, and research.

“We’re hoping that visiting chairs can also teach courses and contribute to research,” shares Rouzer. He and Marran think bringing in innovative people with a wide variety of foci in Japanese culture will benefit students by adding new perspectives to the existing symposia and curricula. 

Professor Rouzer is particularly excited to host a conference at the University of Minnesota during the Fall of 2020. He plans to invite international scholars who focus on the transition to modernity in Japan during the nineteenth century. It would Those participating in the conference will examine classical Chinese in Japanese texts during the period leading to the modern age—particularly writers active between 1830 to 1920. The aim is to enrich the public, other scholars, and the field’s understanding of this aspect of Japanese culture, society, and literature.

The conference will provide a forum for prominent scholars, both American and Japanese, to share their research. Rouzer has also considered creating smaller panels for people to share work that focuses on more specific areas of interest, such as Buddhist literature or the Japanese Tokugawa period (1603-1868). The possibility of a volume of scholarly work or hosting a keynote speaker thrills him. “In East Asian studies, we're trying to create more of a dialogue between scholars working in Asia and scholars in America,” explains Rouzer. Overall, the purpose is to spark a conversation. 

Funding the Future

The Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation has provided the financial resources to implement impressive achievements that weren’t possible in previous years. “We have a really, really talented faculty [in ALL], so if anything, this allows us to carry out projects that will put us on the map,” emphasizes Rouzer.

As Professor Rouzer navigates the new position, discovering what does and doesn’t work will help pave the way for the next Endowed Chair. His time as Chair will help the department discover the best ways to utilize the funds. Each Endowed Chair may take a different approach, but the main mission will be the advancement of Asian studies.

This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLAgency. Meet the team.