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Life of the Buddha - 20 credits (RT1352) (RT1214)

Module Tutor: Professor Max Deeg

Summary of course content

This course will provide a critical overview of the ways in which accounts of the life of the Buddha have been a resource for the fashioning of religious and political identities in South Asia and beyond. The course will consider the primary source materials available for the study of the life of the Buddha and different ways in which these materials have been interpreted by academics: as sources of historical data, as evidence of the shaping ideals of the early Buddhist community and as narratives connected to broader social, political and philosophical debates in South Asia and beyond. The course will provide a broad examination of the conventions and functions of biography in relation to scriptural, inscriptional, and visual evidence in the history of Buddhist traditions. In particular, it will look at the ways in which the construction and re-construction of the life of the Buddha can give us clues concerning changing patterns of historical, political and religious consciousness amongst Buddhists both within, and beyond, South Asia.

Credits: 20

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: None

Necessary for: Religious Studies

Aims

  • To introduce students to some of the key concepts in Buddhist Traditions
  • To provide students with a basic historical framework for the study of  Buddhist Traditions
  • To introduce students to some of the core primary source literature (in translation) for the life of the Buddha.
  • To introduce students to the ways in which accounts of the life of the Buddha have been transformed and adapted in a variety of different historical and geographical contexts through a variety of media
  • To encourage students to consider common themes in the study of narratives of the life of the Buddha (such as continuity & change in their historical development, the negotiation of group identities, issues of gender & power).
  • To develop in students an understanding of the particular role of narratives of significant or founding religious figures in the transmission and negotiation of social norms and ideologies.

Learning outcomes

  • demonstrate a basic knowledge on the Buddhist conception of the life of the religion’s founder.
  • identify and describe at least two different Buddhist traditions of the life of the Buddha.
  • identify and analyse a range of primary source materials (in translation) as well as ethnographic accounts and televisual and cinematic data that for the live of the Buddha.
  • demonstrate a sensitivity to the ways in which historical and contemporary Buddhist traditions adapt the live of their founder to their needs.

Teaching methods

Lectures and seminars

Assessment

2,000 word academic essay (50%) and a final two hour exam (50%)

Suggested book purchases

Strong, John S. (2001), The Buddha. A Short Biography, Oxford: Oneworld.

Suggested preparatory reading

Gethin, Rupert (1998), The Doctrinal Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Harvey, P. (1990), An Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge: C.U.P.
Strong, John S. (2001), The Buddha. A Short Biography, Oxford: Oneworld.
Strong, John S. (1994), The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations, Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Primary sources

Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya, Mahāvastu, Lalitavistara, Nidānakathā (translations will be distributed via Learning Central / Blackboard)