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Education: To Study Asia

2 minute read

A San Francisco importer, Louis P. Gainsborough, came back from a tour through the Orient, profoundly worried. “The more I traveled,” says he, “the more I saw how badly we needed friends. I decided right then that I’d dedicate myself to creating an awareness of Asia.”

U.S. universities, Gainsborough decided, were not doing enough to create the sort of awareness he wanted, and he set out to start a school of his own. He cut the staff of his importing firm from 40 to four, slashed his volume of business from $5,000,000 to $1,000,000, and devoted his time to planning courses and finding teachers. By last week, after four years of preparation, his nonprofit American Academy of Asian Studies was ready to open—the first graduate school in the U.S. devoted solely to the study of the Orient.

For its first term, the academy is offering an exotic array of courses, and 100 college graduates from all over the country have come to take them. There are courses in Islamic law and Hindu thought, in the Urdu, Pali and Bengali languages—everything from “Vedanta and Its Interpretations” to “Systems of Atmavidya.” The whole idea, says Gainsborough, is to teach more than just politics and economics. “Nobody can understand Asia,” says he, “without realizing that the spiritual life dominates everything.”

Gainsborough has also lined up an exotic array of 17 teachers. As director of studies he picked German-born Frederic Spiegelberg, Stanford’s top expert in Hindu culture and religion. From Japan he got Lama Tokwan Tada, a wizened little man in yellow robes who is the only living Japanese High Lama of Lhasa. From India came Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar, the former Prime Minister of Travancore.

As yet, the academy has no real quarters: it is crammed into one floor of the Gainsborough Building at 221 Sansome St. But soon, Gainsborough hopes, it will have a new building of its own, and will be sending out its M.A.s and Ph.D.s to work all over the Orient.

Last week Louis Gainsborough was planning a fund-raising campaign to make the academy permanent. “Our motto is more than scholarship,” says he. “It’s turning out good friends of the Far East. Propaganda can never do that. Education is the only answer.”

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