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Elective: Buddhism and Violence


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies who have succesfully completed the second year elective course. The number of participants is limited to 25.


Buddhism is usually perceived in the West to be a peaceful religion against any kind of violence. Such a stereotypical perception appears unproblematic at first glance. Indeed, one of the cardinal precepts taught by the Buddha is to refrain from harming any living being. Nevertheless, history has known Buddhist monks who actively engaged in warfare including, for instance, warrior-monks in medieval Japan, and ordained soldiers in modern Sri Lanka and Thailand. Furthermore, in Burma there have been bloodshedding clashes between Buddhists and Muslims. In March 1997 Burmese monks launched violent attacks against Muslims, which caused an unknown number of deaths and the destruction of Muslim homes and mosques. So one may wonder: How is it possible that Buddhists kill humans? Doesn’t Buddhism promote nonviolence?
This course offers a systematic survey of Buddhist perspectives on war and violence in different parts of Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, China, Japan and Tibet) from pre-modern times to the present day. We will explore questions such as: How do Buddhist traditions deal with the tension between the religious ideal of nonviolence and the social-political reality of violence? What logic have the guilty parties used to ideologically justify their deviation from the Buddha’s teaching of non-killing? What might have been the underlying motives for such justification? Can killing a living being ever be an act of compassion? Does Buddhism admit the possibility of a “just war”? What is Buddhist nationalism? How have Buddhist institutions been used to facilitate communal violence? And lastly, where did the Western image of Buddhism as a peaceful religion come from, and how has this image evolved over time? In seeking answers to these questions, we will reposition Buddhism within its larger historical and social contexts, and will reflect, in a more nuanced manner, on the relationship between Buddhism in theory and Buddhism in practice. Students are expected to participate in in-class discussions, and to read assigned literature including both primary sources in translation and secondary scholarship.

Course objectives

The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.
Academic skills that are trained include:
Oral presentation skills:
1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
d. aimed at a specific audience;
3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.
Collaboration skills:
1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.
Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:
1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
4. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.
Written presentation skills:
1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
a. in the form of a clear and well-structured written presentation;
b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website

Mode of instruction

Lecture, seminar style discussion and supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for the course = 10 EC (280 hours) , broken down by:
• Attending lectures: 24 hours
• Reading literature, preparing for assignments and presentation: 8 hours per week x 12 weeks = 96 hours
• Writing final paper (including time for reading and research): 160 hours•
h3. Assessment method

  • Learning aim: Interactive engagement with course material Assessment: In-class participation, weekly assignments Percentage: 20%
    • Learning aim: Presentation skills Assessment: Presenting analysis of a case study Percentage: 10%
    • Learning aim: Analytical skills Assessment: Final paper (ca. 4,000 -5,000 words) Percentage: 70%

Note: The maximum possible grade to be obtained for re-submission of the final essay is a 6.0


Blackboard will be used. For tutorial groups: please enroll in blackboard after your enrolment in uSis
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

Harvey, Peter. 2000. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Required)
Houben, Jan E. M., and Karel R. van Kooij (eds.). 1999. Violence Denied: Violence, Non-Violence, and the Rationalization of Violence in South Asian Cultural History. Leiden: Brill. (Recommended)
Zimmermann, Michael (ed.). 2006. Buddhism and Violence. Kathmandu: Lumbini International Research Institute. (Recommended)
Juergensmeyer, Mark and Michael Jerryson (eds.). 2010. Buddhist Warfare. New York: Oxford University Press. (Recommended)
An extended list of reading materials will be made available at the beginning of the semester (Readings will be provided on blackboard when possible).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. Juan Wu, email: