Dr. Rita D. Sherma Receives Lifetime Exemplar Award from South Asian Studies Association

Dr. Rita D. Sherma Receives Lifetime Exemplar Award from South Asian Studies Association

LOS ANGELES, CA – April 18, 2023 – The Graduate Theological Union is pleased to announce that Dr. Rita D. Sherma, Founding Director of the Center for Dharma Studies (CDS) and Associate Professor of Dharma Studies, has received the South Asian Studies Association (SASA) Exemplar Award for 2023. This award, presented annually, recognizes a scholar for exemplary work and leadership over a span of years. 

Dr. Sherma was selected as the 2023 recipient in recognition of her many contributions to the field of “South Asian Studies” over the course of her professional life, not only as a scholar, but also as a community supporter, and cultural ambassador. Dr. Sherma’s work includes the study of Hindu, Jain, and Yoga traditions as well as their practice, particularly regarding their relationship to ecology and sustainability. 

In addition to her leadership of the CDS, Dr. Sherma is also part of the GTU’s Core Doctoral Faculty, served as Department Chair of Theology & Ethics, and is Co-Chair of the Sustainability 360 Initiative.  

Among other accomplishments, Sherma is the founding Vice President of DANAM (Dharma Academy of North America)—a scholarly society for research on Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious & interreligious studies—and founder of the American Academy of Religion’s Hinduism Program Unit; she has served as Vice President of the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies. Dr. Sherma has authored, edited, and co-edited numerous books and is the founding Editor-in-Chief of "Journal of Dharma Studies: Asian & Transcultural Religion, Philosophy, & Ethics,” and has presented over a hundred academic papers. She serves on the Editorial Board of "Reading Religion" Journal (an AAR publication), as Advisor to the Parliament of the World’s Religions Climate Action-sponsored Faith for the Earth online & print project, as well as on the Advisory Board of the Yale Forum for Religion and Ecology. 

“I am grateful and honored to receive this award,” Dr. Sherma said. “I want to acknowledge that the core of my work recognizes the fact that the person I call myself is interconnected with and embedded in the entire world. Therefore, I also want to recognize the gift of my beloved mentors who inspired me, and all of the co-travelers who have joined me in this lifelong quest for connection.” 

SASA promotes academic studies and public awareness related to South Asia regarding the modern nations of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Maldives. In addition to their annual research conference and periodically published journal, SASA also recognizes leaders in major fields, including academia, business, diplomacy, and community service. 

Dr. Sherma was honored as a keynote speaker at the SASA event “South Asian Resilience: Environments, Politics, Economics,” which was held at Loyola Marymount University on March 24-26, 2023. The event consisted of workshops examining the intersection of tradition and modernity from multiple perspectives, as well as honoring the founder of SASA, Dr. Deepak Shimkhada, and Dr. Rita Sherma for their work. 

In her keynote speech, Dr. Sherma spoke about the inspiring influence of her late father—a Canadian international oceanliner shipping company senior executive, with a love for the natural world, and deep engagement with the amelioration of global affairs—because of whose work she travelled through four continents. She also noted her lifelong search for identity and how she discovered purpose in connection with those in the world around her of every religion, race, and ethnicity as well as in an eco-identity based on place and terrain. She concluded with an appeal to attendees to understand that planetary survival depends on the alignment of our highest principles with human and ecological rights.  

“Ways of knowing that are embedded in religion, philosophy, spiritual ethics, moral traditions, and a culture that values the commons are indispensable as essential resources for the transformation necessary for environmental resilience, regeneration and renewal,” she said: “Sustainable nature requires sustainable societies—not wounded ones.”