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Unit information: The Origins and Development of Zen Buddhism in 2020/21

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. Lomi
Open unit status Not open




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


This units offers an overview of the doctrines and practices of Zen Buddhism, one of the most distinguished but often misunderstood Buddhist traditions of East Asia.

While focusing on its history, literature, rituals, approaches to meditation, and path to liberation, the unit also explores the “other sides” of Zen—such as healing practices, funerary activities, and pastoral care—which are often left at the margins of mainstream examinations of Zen.

Intended learning outcomes

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

(1) Demonstrate understanding of key concepts and historical developments unique to Zen Buddhism

(2) Discern and evaluate conceptual, rhetorical, and soteriological issues that underpin Zen discourse

(3) Illustrate how different living realities of Zen practice relate to its discourse and rhetoric.

(4). Demonstrate advanced skills in leading seminars.

(5). Demonstrate advanced skills in independent thought, analysis, argumentation, and critical interpretation using evidence from primary materials and secondary sources.

Teaching details

1x two-hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

Two seminar-leading activities (40%) [ILOs 1-4.]

One 2000 words portfolio (10%) [ILOs 1-3.]

One summative coursework essay of 4000 words (50%) [ILOs 1-3 and 5.]

Reading and References

  • Adamek, Wendi L. The Mystique of Transmission: On an Early Chan History and Its Contexts. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
  • Arai, Paula K. R. Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women's Rituals. Honolulu : University of Hawaii Press, 2011.
  • Faure, Bernard. The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/zen Buddhism. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • Heine, Steven, and Dale S. Wright. Zen Ritual: Studies of Zen Theory in Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • McRae, John R. Seeing Through Zen. Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism. University of California Press, 2003.
  • Winfield, Pamela D, and Steven Heine. Zen and Material Culture. Cary: Oxford University Press US, 2017.