Kenneth Kraft, professor emeritus of religion studies, died October 1 at the age of 69. He was leading scholar in the area of Buddhist studies and Japanese religions and author of several books on contemporary Buddhism.
A memorial service is planned for 2019 at the Rochester Zen Center.
For nearly 50 years, Kraft was deeply engaged in Buddhist studies. He was recognized as a brilliant scholar, impacting countless readers and students in their understanding of Zen Buddhism.
“Professor Ken Kraft will be deeply missed by all of the members of the Religion Studies department at Lehigh," said Hartly Lachter, associate professor and chair of religion studies. "During his many years of service here he was a valued member of the campus community who brought a deep humanity and sensitivity to his work as a teacher and scholar. Ken played a decisive role in shaping the offerings in East Asian religions at Lehigh, as well as the study of Religion more broadly, though his service as department chair. We are all indebted to his efforts, and all mourn the passing of a dear colleague and friend.”
Kraft’s insights and writing were ahead of his time: his work in Japanese Zen and socially engaged Buddhism began in the mid-1980’s. Kraft believed that Buddhism had resources that were freshly relevant in a time of ecological crisis. Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, an anthology coedited in 2000 by Kraft and Stephanie Kaza, was an early contribution to the emerging field. Kraft's 1992 book Eloquent Zen: Daitō and Early Japanese Zen was selected as an "Outstanding Academic Book" by Choice magazine.
Kraft was born in Cincinnati, OH on July 16, 1949, and grew up in Princeton, NJ. Kraft received a B.A. from Harvard University in 1971, an M.A. in Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Michigan in 1978, and a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from Princeton University in 1984. He graduated from the Lawrenceville School in 1967.
After graduating from Harvard, Kraft went on the study at the Rochester Zen Center, in New York. In 1978, he entered Princeton Univesity’s Ph.D. program in East Asian Studies, then studied and practiced in Japan for four years. He spent time as a visiting professor at the Stanford University Japan Center, and was a visiting scholar at the International Research Institute for Zen Buddhism, both in Kyoto. He also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College. In 1990, he joined the Religion Studies department at Lehigh University, teaching courses on Buddhism, Japanese religions, and environmental ethics. At Lehigh, he served as chair of the department and director of the College Seminar Program. In 2005, he received a Lindback Foundation Award for distinguished teaching by a senior member of the Lehigh University faculty.
During his tenure, Kraft edited and published several books and numerous articles on engaged Buddhism. His most recent book, Zen Traces, was published death in June 2018. In Zen Traces, he explores American Zen by pairing passages from four sources: Traditional Zen, Contemporary Zen, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark Twain.
Kraft has served on the advisory boards of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in Berkeley, California; the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University; the Journal of Buddhist Ethics; the Rochester Zen Center; and the World Faiths Development Dialogue in Washington DC.
He is survived by his wife, Trudy, his two daughters, Eva and Louise, son-in-law Max, grandson Daniel, brother Robert, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.