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Level 4

4AAT1901 Introduction to Buddhism


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Professor Kate Crosby
Assessment: One 2,000-word essay (40%) and one two-hour examination (60%)

Teaching pattern: One two-hour weekly lecture over ten weeks. 
Pre-requisites: none

This module is an introduction to Buddhism. It focuses on the exploration of the ‘3 Jewels’ of Buddhism, i.e. the Buddha (its founder and inspirational icon), the Dharma (his teachings, including doctrinal developments in subsequent centuries and systems of practice) and the Sangha (the communities of those who identify themselves in different ways as ‘Buddhists’). It will look at how Buddhist perceived the world and deities in the pre-modern period, and how they analysed human experience as a background to religious practice. It will examine core religious practices and look at the major historical developments of institutional Buddhism in India, and at how Buddhism has spread across Asia, producing distinctive expressions in different countries, and to the West in the 20th century.

NB Please note that this module includes a trip to a London Buddhist Temple, which will require the students to cover the cost of a one-off return public transport fare.

Preliminary/suggested reading

  • Bechert, Heinz & Richard Gombrich (1989), The World of Buddhism, Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Boisselier, Jean (1994), The Wisdom of the Buddha, Thames and Hudson, London. (plus later editions).
  • Buswell, Robert E. (2004) editor in chief, Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Macmillan Reference, New York
  • Corless, Roger J. (1989), The Vision of Buddhism, Paragon House, St. Paul.
  • Keown, Damien (1996), A Very Short Introduction to Buddhism, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Gethin, Rupert (1996), The Doctrinal Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press.
  • Powers, John, A Concise Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Oneworld, Oxford 2000.
  • Skilton, Andrew (1995), A Concise History of Buddhism, Windhorse Publications, Birmingham.
  • Strong, John S. (1994), The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations, Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont.
  • Strong, John (2001) The Buddha: a short biography, Oneworld Oxford

Further information

Module aims

To give undergraduates the opportunity to understand and examine the fundamental principles of Buddhism in terms of religious doctrines and practices.

  • To give candidates an overview of historical and geographical dimensions of Buddhist tradition.
  • To introduce the normative life styles and choices negotiated by Buddhists in Buddhist cultures.
  • To introduce students to a selection of Buddhist literature, as an important access point to historical and contemporary Buddhist culture.

Upon completing this module successfully, students are expected to have gained an overview of Buddhist religion in history and in the contemporary world, and to have acquired tools to help them understand Buddhist communities that they might meet.

Learning outcomes

Generic skills

  • To engage competently with primary and secondary sources.
  • To present ideas in both written and oral form to deadlines.
  • To appreciate non-western cultures and worldviews.

Course specific skills

  • To develop an overview of various strands of Buddhist tradition in historical context and contemporary representation.
  • To recognise the main principles and characteristics of Buddhist religion and appreciate how these shed light on assumptions about religion derived from the Abrahamic tradition.
  • To gain an orientation in relation to the variety of Buddhist religious forms, and perceive commonalities across this variety.
Past syllabi
Previous syllabus document available here for academic year 2015-16.

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.
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