California Institute of Integral Studies?

I have been focused on the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) as the main place to do my PhD. This is largely because Dr. Richard Payne is there and he is one of the few scholars in Japanese Buddhism of the esoteric sort (Shingon, in his case) in the United States.

There is another school in the area that has a PhD program that focuses on Buddhist Studies. That is the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). They actually teach Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese there as well (and require at least one of these for the degree).

One of the things that I’ve been reevaluating is my idea for a dissertation topic. I’ve been batting around the idea of focusing more on the experience of Buddhists in America, especially esoteric Buddhists (which are largely Vajrayana practitioners). This is an area of focus for one of the main professors at CIIS. CIIS also costs an amazingly smaller amount that GTU (around $21,000 a year for PhD versus the $48,000 a year at GTU) and inducts in either Spring or Fall.

What this all means is that if I decided to go to CIIS and was accepted for an application in the next six months, I could start this coming January instead of eight or nine months later at GTU, and it would cost about half as much.

I am unsure about the intellectual or academic rigor of the CIIS program though. It is a small school and, like Naropa, in a way, comes from a background emerging from the mists of the 60s. It also has a fairly small academic staff, which gives less diversity for the work there. There are only four main professors in the “Asian and Comparative Studies” department. Additionally, part of the point of a PhD is who you study with and I would enjoy working with Dr. Payne at GTU. It is conceivable that I could get a good PhD and improve both my academic work and grounding in Buddhism working at CIIS as well. It is really hard to say.

The handbook for the program that I am looking at is available online as well for those interested in looking at it.

So, this leaves me with a bunch of questions but I also have friends who have either attended CIIS or have worked with academics from the school. If people have any thoughts on the school and its programs, I would love to hear them.