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University of Southern California Appoints Hindu Dean of Religious Life

Varun Soni, scholar and the first Hindu spiritual leader on a U.S. campus, has been named dean of religious life at University of Southern California, marking the first appointment of a member of the Hindu faith as primary spiritual leader of an American university.

University of Southern California (USC) news reports

Soni, whose appointment is effective July 1, is a lawyer and religious scholar. He previously taught in the Law and Society Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Soni, a member of the Hindu faith, spent part of his academic career in India, his native country.

Soni holds a bachelor’s degree in religion from Tufts University, a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University, a master’s degree in comparative religion from UC Santa Barbara and a juris doctor degree from UCLA. He is currently completing a Ph.D. degree in religious studies from the University of Cape Town and is a member of the State Bar of California.

“I feel deeply honored and humbled to be the next dean of religious life at USC. The Office of Religious Life at USC has the extraordinary opportunity to facilitate interfaith dialogue and sponsor events that support religious and spiritual life on campus while also utilizing the many resources in Los Angeles, the world’s most religiously diverse city,” Soni said.

Soni’s interest in world religions is long-standing: As an undergraduate, he spent a semester living as a Buddhist monk in a Burmese monastery in Bodh Gaya, India, through the Buddhist Studies Program at Antioch University. As a graduate student, he spent months doing field research in South Asia through UC Santa Barbara’s Center for Sikh and Punjab Studies. A native of India, he was raised in Southern California.

USC enrolls the largest community of international students at an American university, with more than 7,000 scholars from more than 100 nations studying at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels.