Robert Pirsig, the author and former Montana State English instructor who inspired a generation with his book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” will receive an honorary doctorate in December from Montana State University.
Pirsig, 84, will be honored on Dec. 15 at MSU’s fall commencement ceremony. It is the first time MSU has held a fall commencement ceremony in more than 50 years.
“Montana State is privileged to honor Robert Pirsig, an esteemed member of the MSU family who is eminently deserving of this recognition,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. She added that the innovative philosopher is the perfect choice for the renewed fall commencement.
“It is rare, we believe, to have a Montana honoree whose writings speak so eloquently to what may be the most pressing issue of the present time: the recognition of quality in all our lives,” Cruzado said.
Time magazine listed “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” on its 2011 list of 100 best nonfiction books of all time.
On the simplest level, “Zen” is the story of a father and son’s summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, including a stop in Bozeman and Cottonwood Canyon outside the city to visit his friends, the late MSU art professor Bob DeWeese and his wife, Gennie.
On another level, “Zen” is a blend of philosophy, literature and religion that sold five million copies since it was published in 1973.
The book is still taught in classes around the world. Each summer “Pirsig Pilgrims,” people inspired by the book to trace the route of Pirsig’s literary hero, stop in Bozeman and at MSU to see the office Pirsig once occupied in Montana Hall. MSU students have dedicated a plaque in the building that honors Pirsig.
Pirsig worked at what was then Montana State College from 1959-1961.
In 1991 Pirsig also published “Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.” Sexson is expected to accept the award for Pirsig, who is in ill health and rarely travels outside his home in Maine.
In connection with Pirsig’s honorary doctorate, the university will host a two-day conference Dec. 7-8 celebrating Pirsig’s work. “Chautauqua 2012” will include appearances by speakers and teachers, philosophers and artists, filmmakers and motorcycle enthusiasts who will discuss Pirsig’s work, its meaning, and its legacy.
All events will be held on the MSU campus and are free and open to the public. For a full schedule, see montana.edu/pirsig.
For more information about MSU’s December commencement, see montana.edu/commencement.