for ISKCON News on Feb. 5, 2011
ISKCON Hungary’s Bhaktivedanta College for Religious Science (BCRS), the first fully accredited Vaishnava Theology College in Europe, is set to move from its old rented location into its own brand new building this February 9th.
The beautiful three-storey building is an eighty-year old villa, completely renovated in the Art Nouveau style. Covering 400 square meters, it is equipped with three classrooms, offices, and the Bhaktivedanta Library of Budapest, which carries 15,000 books specializing in Indian and religious studies.
The building, located next to the ISKCON Budapest temple, was provided by the Hungarian government and will also be used as an Indian Cultural Center.
It’s just another step forward for the high-achieving College, which was established by the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness (HSKCON) in 1998 and approved by the Hungarian Parliament in 2003 after a successful process of accreditation.
In 2001, the Bhaktivedanta College began offering a Vaishnava Theology BA, and in June 2005, the first six BA diplomas were awarded. In 2009, a second branch was opened in Helsinki, Finland, while in September of that year the Budapest branch began offering a Vaishnava Yoga Master BA, the first accredited degree in Yoga studies in Europe.
“The Bhaktivedanta College intends to train students and create scholars in Vaishnava theology, Indian Culture and yoga in Central European countries,” says Govardhana Dasa, head of Communications at the College. “It also aims to introduce and represent Vaishnava philosophy in Academic and Educational forums in Hungary and in greater Europe, and to establish close ties with Hungarian representatives of other world religions and to develop cultural and educational relations between Hungary, other Central European states, and the Indian society.”
Indeed, the College cooperates closely with Indian education. The quality of its training is assured by teaching staff whose members are highly experienced in their respective fields, in scientific work and in working in India.
“We maintain scientific relations wth and have signed contracts of affiliation with several Indian universities, including Sardar Patel University, VallabhVidyanagar and Somalya University, Gujarat,” Govardhana says. “This gives the opportunity to our students to get their MA or PhD degrees at one of these universities.”
The Bhaktivedanta College is also deeply integrated into Hungarian scientific networks. Most of the staff are active members of the Hungarian Society of Religious Science, as well as of the scientific societies related to their fields of study.
BCRS currently has 328 students in Budapest, and 19 in Helsinki, with nine Theology students set to graduate in July 2011. While most students, especially those enrolled in the Yoga BA, are not ISKCON members, most either become devotees or genuinely sympathetic to ISKCON during their studies.
“This means our educational work serves a double purpose,” says Govardhana. “On the one hand, it ensures that the training of monks for our founding organization, ISKCON, takes place in a state-certified institute. On the other hand, we give opportunities for learning in depth about the teachings of Vedic culture for all those interested, regardless of denominational background.”
And all students are sure to learn under the most qualified teachers: all Bhaktivedanta College’s fifteen teachers either already have a PhD or higher degree, or are currently pursuing their PhD studies, a requirement at the school. They’ve also published a considerable number of study guides and college textbooks for the College’s courses. Meanwhile, celebrated guest teachers abound, including ISKCON scholars and educators Devamrita Swami, Bhaktividya Purna Swami, Drutakarma Dasa, Laksmimoni Dasi, Urmila Dasi, Yadunandana Swami, and Sivarama Swami.
“As well as being a College, BCRS is also a center for research on Vaishnavism and Yoga,” Govardhana explains. “There are five research groups—Vaishnava Exegetics, ISKCON History, Cultural Heritage of India, Yoga, and Vedic Science—in which the College staff and related research fellows carry out their studies. Students are integrated into these research groups through the annual Students' Science Competition and through their degree papers.”
After all its accomplishments, the Bhaktivedanta College Hungary hopes that with its new owned building, it is even better equipped to continue offering the best in Vaishnava education.
“Right now,” says Govardhana, “Our most important aims are to enhance the number of graduating students, and to accomplish the accreditation of our new Vaishnava Theology Masters Degree, which is currently underway.”