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Soka University of America

Coordinates: 33°33′18″N 117°44′06″W / 33.55500°N 117.73500°W / 33.55500; -117.73500
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Soka University of America
Former names
Soka University of Los Angeles (1987–1991)
Motto"Be philosophers of a renaissance of life;
Be world citizens in solidarity for peace;
Be the pioneers of a global civilization."
TypePrivate liberal arts college
Established1987; 37 years ago (1987)[1]
FounderDaisaku Ikeda
Religious affiliation
Buddhism (Soka Gakkai)[2]
Endowment$1.2 billion (2020)[3]
PresidentEdward M. Feasel[4]
Academic staff
Students455 (Fall 2022)[5]
Undergraduates445 (Fall 2022)
Postgraduates10 (Fall 2022)
Location, ,
United States

33°33′18″N 117°44′06″W / 33.55500°N 117.73500°W / 33.55500; -117.73500
CampusLarge Suburb, 103 acres (42 ha)[6]
ColorsRoyal Blue, White & Gold
Sporting affiliations
NAIACal Pac (primary)
NAIA – PCSC[7] (swimming)

Soka University of America (SUA) is a private liberal arts college in Aliso Viejo, California.[8] Originally founded in 1987, it was established on its current campus in 2001 by Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist movement. Though affiliated with Soka Gakkai, it maintains a secular curriculum[9] which emphasizes pacifism, human rights, and the creative coexistence of nature and humanity.[10]

SUA encompasses both a four-year liberal arts college and a graduate school offering a Master's program in Educational Leadership and Societal Change.[11]

History and philosophy[edit]

SUA is a secular college founded by Daisaku Ikeda, the President of Soka Gakkai International (SGI). SUA's philosophical foundation originated in the work of Tsunesaburō Makiguchi, who was the first President of Soka Gakkai (previous name Soka Kyoiku Gakkai) and created a society for educators dedicated to social and educational reform in Japan during the years leading up to World War II.[10]: 6  Makiguchi was an elementary school principal, strongly influenced by John Dewey and American educational progressivism.

Between 1930 and 1934, Makiguchi published his four-volume work, Sōka Kyōikugaku Taikei (Value Creating Education System), to argue for his belief that education should proceed through dialogue instead of "force-feeding" information to students. This student-centered and humanistic philosophy, he argued, made "the purpose of education" an effort "to lead students to happiness." Education, he asserted, should be directed toward "creating value" for the individual and society.

Allegations of sectarianism[edit]

In 2003, two professors claimed they experienced religious discrimination, breach of contract as well as age discrimination. Soka University administrators disputed all allegations of discrimination and noted that the majority of faculty and staff are not Buddhist, said there was no evidence of preferential treatment, and said that the institution has never taught nor will it teach Buddhist—or any other—religious practices.[12][13][14] One professor took legal action against SUA based on these allegations, but her case was dismissed on summary judgment.[15] Another one, Linda Southwell, a terminated fine-arts professor, sued the university, alleging religious discrimination, wrongful termination and fraud. The SUA came to a settlement with the plaintiff, which included a confidentiality clause.[16]

In 2011, Michelle Woo wrote an article for OC Weekly, a local publication in Orange County, California, in which she mentioned possible proselytizing of non-Buddhist staff and students.[17] The article was disputed by Soka University students, faculty, and staff.[18] It stresses that "a quarter of the 20 faculty members (...) a dozen of students (...) and four employees in key administrative and faculty roles have resigned since the campus opened in August 2001".[19]



In 1987, SUA was formed as a not-for-profit organization incorporated in the state of California. Initially it was a small graduate school located on the 588-acre (2.38 km2) former Gillette−Brown Ranch in Calabasas and the Santa Monica Mountains.[20] Originally the location was the site of pre-Columbian Talepop, a settlement of the Chumash people.[21] It was within the Spanish land grant Rancho Las Virgenes in the 19th century.[20] In the 1920s, it became the rural estate of King Gillette with a mansion designed by Wallace Neff. In 1952, it became the Claretville seminary of the Claretian Order of the Catholic Church, and in 1977 it became the religious center of Elizabeth Clare Prophet and the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT).[20] In 1986, CUT sold the 219 acres (89 ha) property to Soka University of Japan.[20]

Calabasas Controversy[edit]

Soka University of America (SUA), originally called Soka University of Los Angeles (SULA), initially operated from 1987 a small ESL (English as a Second Language) school at the Calabasas campus, enrolling just under 100 students. In 1990, SUA announced plans to build a future liberal arts college on campus[22] and plans to expand the facility over the next 25 years to an enrollment of as many as 5,000 students, but ran into opposition from some local residents, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, environmentalists, and government representatives.

Opponents sought to protect the Chumash ancestral site, the natural habitats and ecology, and the expansive open space viewshed within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and to prevent a development of unprecedented urban density adjacent to Malibu Creek State Park.[23][24] According to the Los Angeles Times newspaper, the reputation of the Soka Gakkai - sometimes denounced as a cult -, its political power in Japan, and several scandals, also raised criticism againt the project.

According to an article by the Los Angeles Times, the SUA "enlisted well-connected lobbyists and advocates in a bid to influence Congress and the Interior Department

In 1992, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), a joint-powers authority associated with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, resorted to its powers of eminent domain to condemn the core parcel comprising the institution and thereby halted SUA's plans for expansion.[20] The legal debate continued for the remainder of the decade, and the SUA enlisted well-connected lobbyists and advocates in a bid to influence Congress and the Interior Department", says the Los Angeles Times newspaper[25]. Soka University was eventually prevented from developing any expansion plans at the Calabasas property and began looking for alternative sites to build a larger campus.

The graduate school held its first commencement in December 1995, and in the same year SUA acquired a 103-acre site in Aliso Viejo for a private non-profit four-year liberal arts college, and built a $265-million campus. The Aliso Viejo campus opened on May 3, 2001, with a freshman class of 120 students from 18 countries and 18 states. It was given $300-million endowment by the Soka Gakkai japanese Buddhist group.[26] In June 2005, Soka University received its accreditation from the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).[27]

SUA sold the Calabasas property in April 2005[28] to a coalition of buyers led by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA).[20][29] The former campus is now public parkland, known as King Gillette Ranch Park, and houses the visitor center for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.[29] In 2007, the Calabasas campus was closed and the Graduate School relocated to the Aliso Viejo campus.[30]

Aliso Viejo[edit]

Founders Hall, Aliso Viejo campus.

In 1995, the institution bought 103 acres (0.42 km2) of rough-graded property for $25 million in Aliso Viejo, California, located in southern Orange County. It then spent $265 million to build the first 18 buildings of the new campus, which opened to 120 first year undergraduate students on 24 August 2001. The architecture was designed in a style resembling an Italian hillside village in Tuscany, with red-tiled roofs, stonework, and earth colors.[31] Three academic buildings were named after the founder and Sōka Gakkai's third president Daisaku Ikeda and his wife, Kaneko Ikeda; 20th−century peace activists Linus Pauling and Eva Helen Pauling; and Mohandas Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi. An additional academic building dedicated in 2012 was named after Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai.[32]

Since August 2007 the Aliso Viejo campus has been the home for all of SUA's graduate, undergraduate, and research programs. The Aliso Viejo campus is bordered on three sides by Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park encompassing a 4,000-acre (16 km2) county wildlife sanctuary.

Science Building Construction 2019


Linus and Ava Helen Pauling Hall
Student Center

SUA has an 8:1 student/faculty ratio and an average class size of 12.

  • The undergraduate college offers a Bachelor of Liberal Arts with emphasis areas in Environmental Studies, Humanities, Social & Behavioral Sciences, International Studies, or Life Sciences. Classrooms typically use seminar methods.[10]: 6 
  • The graduate school offers a Master of Arts degree in Educational Leadership and Societal Change.[33]
  • The Pacific Basin Research Center supports research on the humane and peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific Region, including the Latin American border states. It awards grants and fellowships to researchers studying public policy interactions in the Pacific Rim in such areas as international security, economic and social development, educational and cultural reform, environmental protection and human rights. The center also sponsors campus conferences, occasional lecture series, and student seminars that extend and support its research activities.[34]
  • The Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Human Rights will host individuals from around the country and the globe who work to increase understanding and progress on addressing the issues confronting society, including global and local ethnic conflict as well as systemic and institutional racism in the United States.


Academic rankings
Liberal arts
U.S. News & World Report[35]56
Washington Monthly[36]173

Soka University of America's ranking in the U.S. News & World Report's 2023-2024 edition of Best Colleges is tied for 56th overall among "National Liberal Arts Colleges".[37]

For 2021, Washington Monthly ranked Soka 173rd among liberal arts colleges in the U.S. based on their contribution to the public good, as measured by social mobility, research, and promoting public service.[38]

In 2015, the Christian Science Monitor listed SUA 2nd on a top 10 list of the most globally minded colleges.[39]


There are no discipline-based departments at Soka University. Instead, the institution has focused on interdisciplinarity. SUA undergraduates get a bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts, while choosing one of five possible concentration tracks:[10]: 48 

  • Environmental Studies
  • Humanities
  • International Studies
  • Life Sciences
  • Social & Behavioral Sciences

Study abroad[edit]

All undergraduate students at Soka University of America must study a non-native language. The languages offered are Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese. The language must be studied for two years, then all undergraduate students at Soka University of America study abroad for one semester in the spring or fall of their junior year in a country whose language they are studying (costs included in tuition).

Student life[edit]

Residence Halls: "Horizon," "Aurora," "Abeona," and "Sunrise"

About 60% of SUA's student body is from the United States, with the other 40% coming from 30 other countries on six continents. In 2021, Soka University was ranked #1 in "Most International Students" (highest percentage of international students) among national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.[40]


The Soka athletic teams are called the Lions. The institution is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), primarily competing in the California Pacific Conference (Cal Pac) for most of its sports since the 2012–13 academic year; its men's & women's swimming & diving teams compete in the Pacific Collegiate Swim and Dive Conference (PCSC). The Lions previously competed as an NAIA Independent within the Association of Independent Institutions (AII) from 2008–09 to 2011–12.

Soka competes in nine intercollegiate varsity sports, including for men, cross country, soccer, swimming and diving, and track and field; and for women, cross country, golf, soccer, swimming and diving, and track and field.[41]

Admissions and graduation rate[edit]

The Soka Performing Arts Center

For the Class of 2027 (enrolling fall 2022), Soka received 498 applications, accepted 282 (56.6%) and enrolled 129.[42]

Since 2008, full tuition Soka Opportunity Scholarships are available for admitted students whose families make $60,000 or less.[43] SUA was named #11 in U.S. News & World Report's 2022 national rankings for "Best Value - Liberal Arts Colleges".[37] According to SUA's financial aid website in 2015, the university was need-blind for U.S. financial-aid applicants.[44]

Between 2005 and 2007, SUA graduated its first three undergraduate classes with an average graduation rate of 90%. As of 2007, 38% of SUA graduates had gone on to graduate programs.[45]

Notable people[edit]

A notable alumna of Soka University of America is Tahereh Mafi, New York Times best selling author.[46] Notable faculty includes humanities professors Robert Allinson and Jim Merod, the latter having recorded numerous jazz artists (including Herbie Hancock and Ella Fitzgerald) in addition to his scholarship.[47][48]


  1. ^ "SUA Heritage".
  2. ^ "SUA - About".
  3. ^ "The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System". National Center for Education Statistics. Archived from the original on June 23, 2023. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  4. ^ "Edward M. Feasel Named President of Soka University of America". www.soka.edu (Press release). July 17, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  5. ^ "Soka University of America Common Data Set 2018-2019, Part B". Soka University of America.
  6. ^ "Fast Facts". Soka University of America. Retrieved September 22, 2019.
  7. ^ "PCSC".
  8. ^ "Soka University of America". National Center for Charitable Statistics. Archived from the original on August 14, 2014. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  9. ^ Gingold, Naomi. "A Buddhist-founded university is now firmly in the mainstream". The World from PRX. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d Undergraduate Catalog 2013-2014 (PDF). Soka University.
  11. ^ "Graduate Studies | Soka University of America".
  12. ^ "Soka University under fire". Religion Report. ABC. May 21, 2003. Archived from the original on August 12, 2014.
  13. ^ Snyder, Martin D. (March–April 2003). "State of the Profession:Sailing under False Colors". Academe. 89 (2): 111. doi:10.2307/40252413. JSTOR 40252413.
  14. ^ Habuki, Daniel (September–October 2003). "New University Slighted". Academe. 89 (5): 6–7. doi:10.2307/40253380. JSTOR 40253380.
  15. ^ Woo, Michelle (April 18, 2011). "Former Soka University Professor Loses Appeal in Religious Discrimination Case". OC Weekly. Archived from the original on November 14, 2015. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  16. ^ Woo, Michelle (April 18, 2011). "Former Soka University Professor Loses Appeal in Religious Discrimination Case".
  17. ^ Woo, Michelle (March 10, 2011). "Soka University of America Is a School On a Hill". OC Weekly. Archived from the original on November 6, 2014. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
  18. ^ Kissell, Ted (March 14, 2011). "About That Soka University Cover: A Note From the Editor". OC Weekly. Archived from the original on March 21, 2015. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  19. ^ The Associated Press (February 28, 2003). "Controversies at Soka University in California".
  20. ^ a b c d e f "SMMC.ca.gov: "Preliminary Determination of Eligibility Gillette-Brown Ranch, California"" (PDF).
  21. ^ "The Historical Ecology of Talepop, an Interior Chumash Settlement in the Santa Monica Mountains | Society of Ethnobiology". ethnobiology.org.
  22. ^ "Soka University Expansion Stirs Calabasas Controversy," Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1990, http://articles.latimes.com/1990-09-24/local/me-913_1_soka-university-map/2
  23. ^ Aaron Curtiss (December 12, 1993). "Soka University: Fight Brews Over Land in the Santa Monicas". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  24. ^ Loesing, John (March 13, 2003). "Environmentalists beat Soka University—again". The Acorn. Archived from the original on December 27, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  25. ^ "Soka Goes to Washington in Effort to Keep Campus". The Los Angeles Times. May 20, 1993.
  26. ^ Gotlieb, Jeff (August 19, 2001). "A New-View University". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 23, 2024.
  27. ^ University Catalog 2014-2016, Soka University of America, pg. 5
  28. ^ "Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy". smmc.ca.gov.
  29. ^ a b "Soka University campus sold to Conservation Authority". Los Angeles Business. April 22, 2005. Archived from the original on December 27, 2005. The former campus is now managed jointly by the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority, the state parks department, and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
  30. ^ University Catalog, Soka University of America, pg. 5S.
  31. ^ Roark, Anne C. (Spring 2002). "Soka University". National Cross Talk. National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  32. ^ "Campus Map | Soka University of America".
  33. ^ "Academics Overview (MA Program)". Soka University. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  34. ^ Montgomery, John D (1998). Human Rights: Positive Policies in Asia and the Pacific Rim. Hollis, NH: Hollis Publishing Company. p. x. ISBN 1-884186-09-2.
  35. ^ "Best Colleges 2024: National Liberal Arts Colleges". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved September 20, 2023.
  36. ^ "2023 Liberal Arts Rankings". Washington Monthly. Retrieved September 25, 2023.
  37. ^ a b "Soka University of America Rankings". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  38. ^ "2020 Liberal Arts College Rankings". Washington Monthly. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  39. ^ "Top 10 most globally minded colleges". Christian Science Monitor. August 29, 2015. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  40. ^ "Most International Students". U.S. News & World Report. 2014. Archived from the original on April 6, 2023. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  41. ^ "Soka University Athletics - Official Athletics Website". Soka University Athletics.
  42. ^ "Common Data Set 2021–2022, Part C". Soka University of America.
  43. ^ "Soka University Announces New Tuition Policy" (PDF). Soka University. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 30, 2008.
  44. ^ "Soka University". Archived from the original on December 25, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  45. ^ Four-Year Colleges 2008. Peterson's. July 17, 2007. ISBN 978-0768924008.
  46. ^ "Soka University of America - Profile, Rankings, and Data".
  47. ^ "Jim Merod, PhD". www.soka.edu. Archived from the original on August 16, 2009. Retrieved July 1, 2023.
  48. ^ "About - BluePort Jazz". www.blueportjazz.net. Retrieved July 1, 2018.


  • Bethel, Dayle M. ed. (1990). Education for Creative Living: Ideas and Proposals of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press.

External links[edit]