Barbara Ruch is Professor Emerita of Japanese Literature and Culture at Columbia University and Director of the Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies, which is an international, interuniversity organization that she founded in 1968. She was also the Founding Director of Columbia University's Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture.
During the 1950's she lived in Japan as a staff member of the Quaker group known as the American Friends Service Committee repairing war damage to orphanages and nursing homes and conducting workshops on peace methods for international students. She later earned her Ph.D. degree in Chinese and Japanese Studies at Columbia University.
She is recognized as a leading specialist on and a pioneer in the study of the medieval Japanese performing art known as etoki, or "painting recitation." She is also responsible for stimulating in Europe, the U.S., and Japan the study and publication of medieval illustrated fictional texts known as Nara ehon books and scrolls.
In 1993 Professor Ruch initiated and continues to direct the on-going Research and Restoration Project in the 13 remaining Buddhist Convents once headed by imperial abbesses in Kyoto and Nara and is spearheading conservation, exhibitions and publication of their treasures, and restoration of their historic structures.
In 1996, she organized and directed the Kôbô Abe International Symposium and Commemoration throughout New York City, devoted to the multi-faceted artistic and literary works of this major Japanese intellectual and writer.
She has been awarded many prizes for her pioneering work in various aspects of Japanese literature and cultural history, including the Minakata Kumagasu Prize, the Aoyama Nao Prize, the Yamagata Banto Prize, the Kyoto Culture Award, the Buddhist Culture Award and the Cultural Bridge Award. The Imperial decoration, The Order of the Precious Crown, with Butterfly Crest, was conferred on Professor Ruch by the Japanese Government in 1999.
Currently she is dedicated to establishing at Columbia, and in the Columbia/Juilliard joint program permanent Gagaku-Hōgaku Japanese Heritage Music instrumental ensembles.