William R. LaFleur received his PhD from the University of Chicago, where he studied with Joseph Kitagawa and Mircea Eliade. Over the course of his career, LaFleur taught at Princeton University, UCLA, Sophia University, Tokyo, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the E. Dale Saunders Professor of Japanese Studies. In addition to his work on Buddhist cosmology and the “mind” of medieval Japan, he was a gifted translator and interpreter of poetry and published two volumes on the medieval monk-poet Saigyō. He was deeply interested in Zen, especially as a resource for contemporary thought. He wrote and edited several books and essays, introducing to Western readers the work of the thirteenth-century Zen master Dōgen, the Kyoto-school figure Masao Abé, and the twentieth-century philosopher and cultural historian Watsuji Tetsurō. In 1989, he became the first non-Japanese to win the Watsuji Tetsurō Cultural Prize. In his later career, while continuing to study medieval Japanese religion and literature, he produced pioneering studies of Japanese bioethics, highlighting contrasts with Western approaches to such issues as abortion, organ transplants, and medical definitions of death. Altogether, he wrote or edited nine books. He passed away in 2010.
Books, Courses & Podcasts
Awesome Nightfall: The Life, Times, and Poetry of Saigyō captures the power of Saigyō’s poetry and this previously overlooked poet’s keen insight into the social and political world of medieval Japan. It also offers a fascinating look into the world of Japanese Buddhism prior to the wholesale influence of Zen.