Wesleyan portrait of William D. Johnston

William D. Johnston

John E. Andrus Professor of History

318 High Street,

Professor of History

318 High Street, 001A

Chair, History

Professor, Environmental Studies

Professor, Science and Technology Studies

Professor, East Asian Studies


BA Elmira College
MA Harvard University
PHD Harvard University

William D. Johnston

At present, I am reading texts mostly related to Zen Buddhism, and in particular Eihei Dōgen's Shōbō genzō and various translations from the Pali Canon. In the future, I plan to translate texts that have remained obscure but whose value is clear, both to practitioners and to scholars. Examples include Daigaku Zenji's Zazen ron and the untranslated works of Eihei Dōgen.

The academic story: After going to primary and secondary schools in Wyoming, I went to college at Elmira College in New York and graduate school at Harvard University. I have also studied at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan, Nagoya University, and Tokyo University, been a research scholar at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies and Kyoto University, and the Edwin O. Reischauer Visiting Professor of History at Harvard. I came to Wesleyan in 1988 and plan to retire in 2024, after 36 years of service.

The Zen practitioner's story: while in high school, I encountered Suzuki Daisetz's An Introduciton to Zen Buddhism and determined to pursue Zen in my life. Rather than study it as an academic discipline, I decided to integrate it into my life as best as possible. While studying in Japan in 1975, I received instruction in Zen meditation from a Sōtō Sect priest, beginning what has become a life-long practice. During my first year in graduate school, I sat with Maurine Myōon Stuart in Cambridge, MA, and later with Yamada Kōun in Kamakura. In 2000, I first visited Zen Mountain Monastery and have practiced there ever since. In 2003, a group traveled from Zen Mountain Monastery to visit a Japanese Sōtō master, Suzuki Seidō Roshi, at Unsenji in Okayama Prefecture in Japan. Since then, I have visited Seidō Roshi in Japan almost every year, and formally became his student as a Sōtō monk at Tōshōji training monastery in 2018. After retiring from Wesleyan, I plan to spend longer stretches of time both studying with Seidō Roshi and at Zen Mountain Monastery.

Academic Affiliations

Office Hours

Spring 2023:  Tuesdays, 1:30 to 3:30 or by appointment