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Unit information: The Foundations of Buddhist Thought and Practice in 2018/19

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Unit name The Foundations of Buddhist Thought and Practice
Unit code THRS20031
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Gethin
Open unit status Not open




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


Buddhism has its origins in eastern India in the 5th century BCE. During the next 1500 years it flourished across nearly the whole of Asia, from Afghanistan in the west to Japan in the east. This unit focuses on the fundamental ideas and practices of Buddhism as they developed in India until the end of the 5th century CE: the figure of the Buddha, Buddhist cosmology, ideas of karma and rebirth, Buddhist ethics, Buddhism and society, Buddhist philosophy (the doctrines of no-self and dependent origination), Buddhist meditation, and the origins of Mahayana Buddhism. While the main focus is historical, ancient ideas and practices will be illustrated by reference to more recent examples and developments.

Students will be allowed to practice their oral presentation skills by giving a class presentation.

Intended learning outcomes

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

(1) articulate knowledge and critical understanding of the fundamental ideas and practices of Buddhism which can form the basis for the further study of particular forms and aspects of Buddhism;

(2) demonstrate an understanding of some significant primary Buddhist textual sources in translation;

(3) analyse and evaluate competing perceptions of the development of Buddhist ideas and practice;

(4) identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument.

Teaching details

1 x two-hour lecture and 1 x one-hour seminar week

Assessment Details

1 x 2500 essay (50%) [ILO 1-4]

1 x two-hour exam (50%) [ILO 1-4]

Reading and References

Gethin, Rupert, The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford: OUP, 1998)

Sayings of the Buddha: A Selection of Suttas from the Pali Nikyas, Oxford Worlds Classics (Oxford: OUP, 2008)

Harvey, Peter, An introduction to Buddhism: teachings, history and practices, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Robinson, Richard H., Buddhist religions: a historical introduction, 5th ed. (London: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005).

Strong, John S., The Buddha: a beginner's guide (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009)

Williams, Paul, Buddhist thought: a complete introduction to the Indian tradition (London : Routledge, 2000)