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Chinese Buddhism



Chinese Buddhism, especially its historical past, may seem to us as distant and irrelevant as almost anything we are ever likely to study. After all, even in mainland China today, more than fifty years after the communist takeover, hardly anyone is a Buddhist. But even if your primary goal is to understand contemporary society in the PRC, not to mention Chinese communities in Taiwan, Singapore, or Amsterdam, an appreciation of the legacy of Buddhism is vital, since Buddhism has fundamentally shaped Chinese society in a myriad of profound ways. Moreover, a study of Chinese Buddhism also provides an excellent opportunity to approach basic human questions of an entirely general type, such as questions about the dynamic tension between the religious and the secular, about how issues of authority are mediated in societies, about how some very smart and insightful people have thought about what it means to live and die, and much more.

Teaching method

Lectures, discussion as much as possible, reading of primary sources in translation and secondary sources (scholarship).

Admission requirements

Introduction to Buddhism (or equivalent), Chinese History (or equivalent), or permission of instructor

Course objectives

To gain a familiarity with:

  • The basic chronological / historical sequence of Chinese Buddhism— its “history” in a factual sense.

  • The universe (“cosmology”) of Chinese Buddhism, and thus China generally, its gods and spirits and powers.

  • The major movements of ideas and practices in Chinese Buddhism over time.

  • The major forces acting on Chinese Buddhism over time: political, economic, philosophical, practical, and so on.

  • The major sources for the study of Chinese Buddhism: texts, art and archaeology, secular sources, modern ethnography, etc.

Course load

5 EC * 28 hours = 140 hours

Required reading

Test method

Midterm and final exam, questions distributed in advance.

Time table

See collegerooster for date and location.


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Other Buddhism related courses

At BA-level
Fall Semester
Anthropology and Buddhism in Asia
Buddhism through Stories
Buddhist Art
Culture of Tibet
Introduction to Buddhism
Japanse religies en boeddhisme
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts
Iconography of South and Southeast Asia
Elementary Pali
Tibetan 1

Spring Semester
Architecture: The Temple and the Stupa
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibet: State and Society
Sacred Biography in Buddhism and Jainism
Indian Philosophy
Tibetan 2

At MA-level
Buddhism and Social Justice
Reading Buddhist Scriptures
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts