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Unit information: The Practice of Tibetan Religion in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name The Practice of Tibetan Religion
Unit code THRS30096
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
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


This unit examines the historical and contemporary practice of Tibetan religions, taking in the varieties of Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism and the Bon tradition of Tibet. It will explore how Buddhism became established in Tibet across two “transmissions” from India through the teachings and practices of several key figures, examining how Buddhism absorbed pre-Buddhist concepts and practices as it spread across the Tibetan plateau, and how Buddhism came to define many aspects of Tibetan culture. The unit explores some of the greater and lesser known esoteric practices which endure to this day, and looks at Tibetan perspectives on monasticism, life, death, oracles and divination, and the role of women. Finally, it will consider some western appropriations of Tibetan Buddhism and the practice of Tibetan Buddhism in non-Tibetan contexts in the contemporary world.

Intended learning outcomes

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

1. Identify the main characteristics of the Tibetan religious context
2. Synthesise and critically evaluate religious issues appropriate to the Tibetan context
3. Recognize and assess the concerns of Tibetan society at different historical moments
4. Differentiate between different doctrinal teachings and ritual practices
5. Evaluate the influence of Tibetan religious practices and beliefs in the modern West.

Teaching details

Seminars - 3 hours per week

Assessment Details

1 x essay of 3000 words (50%) [ILOs 1-5]

1 x 2 hour exam (50%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

  • J. Powers, (1995) Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism
  • G. Samuel (1993) Civilized Shamans
  • G. Samuel (2012) Introducing Tibetan Buddhism
  • D. Snellgrove (1987) Indo-Tibetan Buddhism
  • D. Snellgrove and H. Richardson (1968) A Cultural History of Tibet
  • Gyatso, Janet, and Havnevik, Hanna (eds), Women in Tibet: Past and Present, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006