Dear Mr. Mudd: Did Thich Nhat Hanh Attend or Teach at Princeton University?

Dear Mr. Mudd,

I’ve read that Thich Nhat Hanh was a Princeton student, and also that he taught there. Do you have records associated with this?

In Fragrant Palm Leaves, set for re-release in 2020, prominent Buddist peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about his time in Princeton, New Jersey in the 1960s. The way he wrote, and subsequently spoke, about this time has raised questions about what he was doing in town, such as whether he taught, studied, or both, and whether that was at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) or Princeton University. These are separate institutions and always have been, but their names and close relationship have often caused confusion.

Princeton Theological Seminary’s Alexander Hall, ca. 1843. Image courtesy Princeton Theological Seminary Archives.

We have located no records associated with him ever having been a student or faculty member at Princeton University. However, he is listed as a student at PTS in their 1961-1963 Handbook. At that time, he was using the name Nguyen Xuan Bao. You can find the Handbook online in two parts:

You can also find a photograph of him with other PTS students in this magazine article.

Though not a student at Princeton University, he could have taken courses here while a PTS student, as many PTS students have done throughout history and still do today. In 1961 the University hired a specialist in Buddhism to offer some new courses, Kenneth S. Chen, which expanded the department’s offerings in courses concerning Eastern religions, which might have made it more likely for Hanh to have been on campus. He could also, potentially, have worked as a preceptor. Aside from this, he may have interacted with Princeton University students socially. Fragrant Palm Leaves contains references to a Japanese student named Kenji. This may have been Princeton University graduate student Kenji Kobayashi *61.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.