Yale-NUS College announces Yap Kim Hao Professorship in Comparative Religious Studies

24 March 2014

Singapore’s first liberal arts college aims to enhance the academic study of multiple religious beliefs, practices and experiences in today’s world

With a $2 million gift from an anonymous donor, Yale-NUS College establishes the Yap Kim Hao Professorship in Comparative Religious Studies, aimed at enhancing the academic study of religions at the College. Focusing on the multiple religious beliefs, practices and experiences in today’s world, the study of Comparative Religious Studies is a crucial component of the global curriculum for the 21st century.

Students at Yale-NUS College go through an interdisciplinary inquiry-based curriculum where they not only master a body of knowledge and techniques, but also learn to ask the right questions from a global perspective. During the mid-semester break in October 2013, some students spent a week out of the classroom exploring the diverse practices and perspectives of religious practitioners in multi-religious Singapore, guided by an anthropologist and a historian from the College.

“We hope to be able to attract an international-level scholar who can guide our students to an appreciation of the range of religious practices, and the importance of understanding them in the modern age,” said Professor Charles Bailyn, Yale-NUS’ Dean of Faculty. “Singapore is a particularly interesting environment to explore these questions, given the wide range of religious groups and practices that co-exist here.”

A Yale-NUS College committee comprising key leaders and faculty members will select the inaugural holder of the Yap Kim Hao Professorship in Comparative Religious Studies, the third named professorship at the College. In April 2013, Professor Scott Cook and Professor Jay Garfield were named respectively as the inaugural Tan Chin Tuan Professor of Chinese Studies and Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Professor of Humanities.

The new professorship is named after Reverend Doctor Yap Kim Hao, former Vice-President of the Inter-Religious Organisation (Singapore) which has been actively promoting inter-faith dialogue and understanding in Singapore since 1949. Rev Dr Yap is also the Convenor of Singapore Interfaith Network on AIDS, Chairman of Chen Su Lan Trust, and Pastoral Advisor of Free Community Church, Singapore. The first Asian bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia, Rev Dr Yap has retired from full-time Christian ministry but continues to advocate the universal need to respect religious diversity, engage in dialogue and work together with people of diverse backgrounds. For his undergraduate education, Rev Dr Yap attended Baker University in Kansas, United States where he received a well-rounded education in the disciplines of science, social science and the humanities. Rev Dr Yap holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees from Boston University and received its Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988.

“The issue of religion is increasingly important and a study of comparative religion is absolutely necessary to reduce religious conflicts and promote religious harmony. A Professor of Comparative Religious Studies is a breakthrough in tertiary education and augurs well for our common future,” the 85-year-old shared. “I am convinced that the liberal arts education is important for the 21st Century with the increased flow of information that one has to encounter and seek to understand and interpret for the good of our common future.”