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Unit information: The Origins and Development of Zen Buddhism in 2016/17

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Unit name The Origins and Development of Zen Buddhism
Unit code THRSM0028
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kieschnick
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit examines the history of Zen buddhism, from its origins in medieval China to later developments in Korea, Vietnam and Japan. Themes covered will include the teachings of key texts and figures, well-known stories, monastic life in Zen monasteries and the introduction of Zen to the West.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, the student will be expected to have:

  1. Acquired a basic understanding of key Zen concepts such as sudden enlightenment, encounter dialogue and lineage.
  2. Acquired skills in reading and assessing primary sources (in translation) and in analyzing these sources in both written and oral form.
  3. Acquired sufficient knowledge to be able to pursue further study of Zen in greater detail.

Teaching details


Assessment Details

One summative essay of 5000 words (100%)

Reading and References

  • Robert H. Sharf, "Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience." Numen, vol.42, no.3 (1985), pp.228-283
  • Janet Gyatso, "Healing Burns with Fire: The Facilitations of Experience in Tibetan Buddhism." Journal of the American Academy of Religions, vol.67, no.1 (1999), pp.113-147.
  • John C. Maraldo, "Is There Historical Consciousness Within Ch'an." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol.12, no.2-3, pp.141-172.
  • James D. Sellman, "A Belated Response to Hu Shih and D.T. Suzuki." Philosophy East and West, vol.45, no.1 (1995), pp.97-104.
  • Heinrich Dumoulin, "Early Chinese Zen Reexamined: A Supplement to Zen Buddhism. A History," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 20, no.1 (1993), pp.31-53.
  • Bernard Faure, "Bodhidharma as Textual and Religious Paradigm." History of Religions, vol.25, no.3 (1986), pp.187-198.