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Unit information: Buddhism in Practice in 2020/21

Unit name Buddhism in Practice
Unit code THRS30081
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Langer
Open unit status Not open




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


This unit aims to provide students with an overview of Buddhist practice from its beginnings in India to its modern forms, focusing especially on the southern (Theravāda) tradition of Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. The unit will offer students in depth knowledge of several important topics: Buddhist ethics, monasticism, the monk-laity relationship, rituals of magic and protection, the position of women, controversy over the nuns’ ordination, and the issue of Buddhism and violence. These themes will be investigated by using various kinds of sources ranging from primary textual sources in translation and the writings of historians and social anthropologists to audio-visual material generated in the field.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to demonstrate:

(1) a comprehensive understanding of the actuality of Buddhism in Asia

(2) an in-depth knowledge of significant topics in Asian Buddhism, including Buddhist ethics, the position of women, and issues of Buddhism and violence

(3) advanced ability to critically evaluate scholarly theories and popular assumptions regarding the nature of the relationship between religion's theory and practice

(4) advanced skills in the researching, reading and presentation of complex material at a standard appropriate to level H/6.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

1 x 2000 words portfolio (formative) [ILOs 1-4] 1 x 3000-word summative essay (100%) [ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

T. Bartholomeusz, Women under the Bo Tree (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

R. F. Gombrich, Buddhist Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highlands of Ceylon (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991).

S. J. Tambiah, Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

Melford E. Spiro, Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and its Burmese Vicissitudes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).

Donald K. Swearer, The Buddhist world of Southeast Asia (Albany: State University of New York Press,1995).

Kate Crosby, Theravada Buddhism: Continuity, Diversity and Identity (Chicester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.