Janice Dean Willis, or Jan Willis (born 1948) is Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, where she has taught since 1977; and the author of books on Tibetan Buddhism. She has been called influential by Time Magazine [1], Newsweek, [2], and Ebony Magazine [3]

Willis grew up in Docena, Alabama (near Birmingham), as the daughter of a Baptist deacon and steelworker. While traveling through Asia during the early 1970's, she became the student of Tibetan lama Thubten Yeshe, who encouraged her academic pursuits. She received BA and MA degrees in philosophy from Cornell University (thesis: History, Faith, and Kerygma; A Critique of Bultmann's Existentialist Theology.), and a Ph.D. in Indic and Buddhist Studies from Columbia University (dissertation: A Study of the Chapter on Reality Based Upon the Tattvartha-patalam of Asanga's Bodhisattvabhumi.).

She is the author of the following books:

  • Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey. New York: Riverhead Books, 2001.
  • The Diamond Light: An Introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.
  • On Knowing Reality: The Tattvartha Chapter of Asanga's Bodhisattvabhumi. Columbia UP, 1979.
  • Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition. Wisdom Publications, 1995.
  • (editor)Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1989.

Since 2006 she has contributed to the group blog On Faith (sponsored by Newsweek and the Washington Post) alongside Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, and Madeline Albright, among others.

External links


  1. December 2000; Willis was named as one of six "Spiritual innovators for the new millennium"
  2. "Spirituality in America," 2005.
  3. May 2007 issue cites her as one of the 150 most influential African Americans (one of sixteen religious leaders so named).

Other sources

  • Paine, Jeffrey. Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West. Norton, 2004. Willis's experience with Lama Yeshe is discussed on pp. 64-70.

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