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2019/20 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

EAST5038M Buddhism: Practices, Beliefs and Texts

15 creditsClass Size: 15

Module manager: Dr Martin Seeger

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

The module will introduce the most fundamental tenets of Theravada Buddhist teaching. These teachings will be explained in the context of the biography of the Buddha, as it is depicted in the canonical and post-canonical texts of Theravada-tradition. Moreover, this module will examine Thai Buddhist monasticism and the magic-animistic elements of Thai Buddhism (e.g. the amulet cult, protective tattoos). One main aspect of the module will be the investigation of the relationship between the Thai monkhood, Thai society, and Thai state. Also, this module will address ongoing Buddhist controversies in Thailand, like the possibility of a (re)initiation of a Thai Buddhist nun order, the debates on the controversial issues whether there is a Higher Self in Buddhism or not (atta/anatta), whether being a Buddhist implies being a vegetarian or not, are the supernatural elements which the Pali canon attributes to the Buddha to be understood literally, metaphorically, or should they be simply regarded as accretions of the later tradition, should/can the canonical texts be changed in order to pitch modern social conditions, and so on. In this way it will expose students to the multifarious practices and interpretations of modern Thai Buddhism.


This module aims to:
- Provide an introduction to the various forms, interpretations and schools of contemporary Thai Buddhism;
- Investigate the complex articulation of Buddhism, state, society, and economics in contemporary Thailand;
- Discuss the basic thoughts and interpretations of some of the most influential Thai Buddhist thinkers and practitioners
- Introduce and discuss the most fundamental tenets of Theravada Buddhist teaching
- Develop skills in producing critical evaluations of scholarly work of substantial length and discussing it within the broader context of the field (that is, to be able to write a book review).

Learning outcomes
At the end of the module, students will be expected to have:
1) Acquired a good understanding of the history of early Buddhism and the most fundamental teachings of Theravada-Buddhism;
2) Gained knowledge about the history and development of the texts of the Pali-canon;
3) Learned about the history of Theravada-Buddhism in South East Asia, and especially in Thailand;
4) Developed the skills to evaluate their learning processes, written work and oral expression critically and reflexively through tutorial discussion and presentation;
5) Developed the skills to search, identify, select and evaluate relevant academic materials in the study of Buddhism;
6) Developed the skills to write a book review.


While the detail may vary from year to year, the outline below is indicative of the kinds of topics and questions that the module will address:
• ‘What is religion/Buddhism?’; ‘How to study Buddhism/Buddha’s biography?’; ‘What is Pāli Buddhism/Theravāda Buddhism?
• Pre-Buddhist India; the Life of the Buddha
• Formal aspects of early Buddhist texts; some general characteristics of the Buddha’s teaching; discussion of some fundamental Buddhist terms/concepts; ‘Is Buddhism a pessimistic thought edifice?’
• Discussion of the teachings of the Four Noble Truths (and the ‘duties’) and the Three Characteristics
• The importance of mind (processes): the teachings of Not-self (anatta) and Dependent Origination ‘What is nibbāna? What is kamma?’
• A Short History of Western Buddhist Studies
• Monasticism in modern Thai Buddhism
• The anthropology of Buddhism: magic, animism and Buddhism
• Three “key-texts” in Thai Buddhism: Traiphum Phra Ruang, Vessantara Jātaka, and the story of Venerable Māleyya
• Women in (Thai) Buddhism
• The Changing Roles of Thai Buddhist Women/Bhikkhuni ordination controversy/female Buddhists saints in Thai Buddhism

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours126.00
Total Contact hours24.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)150.00

Private study

Students will be required to study intensively the key text (Rahula Walpola, What the Buddha Taught) and reading texts that will be given out to students as handouts or vi Minerva on a weekly basis. In addition this, students will be asked to do on-line research on various aspects of Buddhism. Students will also regularly receive mini research questions/topics during the first seven teaching weeks of this module, and they are required to write short essays on their findings, as homework. For their assessed 3,500 word essay, students will have to do intensive and extensive research on a topic that is related to Buddhism. The PowerPoint presentations that serve as a basis for the lectures and seminars will be made available to students on Minerva on a weekly basis, so that students are able to revise the lectures/seminars more effectively.
Students will have to produce a 1,000 word review of a book in the field of Buddhist Studies.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Monitoring participation in seminars; homework: students will be asked to give mini-presentations that are based on their homework

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay or Dissertation3500 words70.00
Literature ReviewBook review - 1000 words30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 25/07/2019


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