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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Divinity : Divinity

Postgraduate Course: Theravada Buddhism from Benares to Bangkok (REST11021)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Divinity CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course explores a major branch of Buddhism from its origins in 5th century BCE North India to its present-day manifestations in South and Southeast Asia.
Course description Academic Description:
This course explores the branch of Buddhism known as Theravada, which is prevalent in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, aiming to give students a thorough understanding of the major beliefs, practices and historical developments as well as allow more in-depth study of selected themes. The course covers the origins of Buddhism, the development of Theravada as a distinct branch, the history of Theravada, and key aspects of Theravada Buddhist thought and practice. Students are expected to engage directly with primary sources, both textual and ethnographic, and to reflect upon the nature of these types of sources within the academic study of Buddhism.

Syllabus/Outline Content:
This course begins with the beginnings of Theravada Buddhism, by exploring Theravada representations of the life of the Buddha and traditional understandings of Theravada history and identity. It then discusses key Buddhist ideas in their Theravada formulations, the notion of scripture and the compilation of the 'Pali canon', monasticism as the basic Theravada institution, meditation, ethics, ritual and devotional practices, and the role of Theravada Buddhism in national identity and political debate. Throughout the course students are encouraged to explore variations in Theravada perspectives, as well as to question both traditional and academic representations of Theravada Buddhism.

Student Learning Experience Information:
The course is paired with REST10048, and shares a two-hour class per week with that course. One hour is usually a traditional lecture format, albeit with interactive elements and an emphasis on student engagement with primary sources. The other hour is a seminar discussion of the set reading for the week, which will usually be either a scriptural extract or an ethnographic account. Students are expected to read the set seminar readings and produce a weekly short written response that gives a brief summary of the source, picks out one or two points of interest and raises a question for discussion; these weekly responses are combined to form 20% of the course mark. Students are also expected to follow up recommended readings relating to lecture themes. In addition to the shared class time, students on REST11021 will have four additional seminars with the CM, exploring more advanced readings and extra topics, as decided at the beginning of the semester. A 4,000 word essay on a topic devised by the student in conversation with the CM will form 80% of the summative assessment, while formative assessment is provided through feedback on essay plans and annotated bibliographies.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. describe, with attention to the significant variations, the main beliefs, practices, and historical developments of South and Southeast Asian Buddhism.
  2. interpret textual and ethnographic sources in the context of wider knowledge of Theravada Buddhist societies past and present.
  3. complete a close analysis of a scriptural passage in the context of scholarly debates about the relationship between scriptural corpus and contemporary Buddhist practices.
  4. assess the role of both textual and ethnographic sources in our understanding of the reception and practice of Theravada Buddhism, and relate this to wider issues surrounding the use and relationship of sources in the study of religion.
  5. identify and evaluate key issues in Theravada literature, history, doctrine and practice using both primary and secondary sources.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsReligion,Buddhism,Theravada,South Asia,Southeast Asia,Textual Studies,Ethnography.
Course organiserDr Naomi Appleton
Tel: (0131 6)50 8976
Course secretaryMiss Rachel Dutton
Tel: (0131 6)50 7227
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