Header image for the course page

Religious Studies Courses

Discover your next favorite class!

Buddhist Traditions: A Material Cultural Approach

Religious Studies 311 - Fall 2020

The ritual act of taking refuge plays an important role throughout various Buddhist traditions. In this class, we will use this idea as a helpful framework to examine Buddhist doctrines, ideas, theories, and practices. We will attempt to understand what role various forms of media and their ritualistic appropriations played in Buddhist responses to the question of "how can we end human suffering?" To do so, we will observe four different ways in which practitioners took refuge in the Buddha. In the first section "Taking Refuge in the Life of the Buddha," we will explore how practitioners attempted to emulate aspects of the Buddha's life stories (jataka). In the second section "Taking Refuge in the Body of the Buddha," we will engage in the practice of relic veneration and its relationship to the Buddha's life stories. In the third section "Taking Refuge in the Words of the Buddha," we will delve into the world of powerful scriptures and their ornamentation, production, and veneration. And in the last section "Taking Refuge in the Realms of the Buddha," we will investigate Buddhist sacred geography and various forms of ma??alas. At the end, this course will offer you many different responses to the problem of human suffering that various Buddhist communities had developed. By surveying these distinct responses, we will realize that "Buddhism" is a conglomeration of quite rich and diverse practices and ideas, offering a plethora of sometimes concurring solutions to the problem of human suffering. At the same time, however, we will recognize recurrent themes and similar ritualistic appropriations of mixed media cultural objects that obviously transcended national, congregational, and disciplinary boundaries. In that sense, the heuristic framework of taking refuge in the Buddha allows us to see some continuity in the discontinuous development of Buddhist traditions, their material culture, and ritualistic performances.

Section 01

Buddhist Traditions
View Course Listing