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This modules surveys the main features of Buddhism as a world religion, with the emphasis on Indian Buddhism: early Buddhist doctrinal teachings in their religious context, the Buddhist community and monasticism, the scholastic Abhidhamma tradition, and sectarian developments.

Topics covered

  • The life of the Buddha
  • The Buddha’s Teachings
  • The Monastic and Lay Communities
  • Buddhist Meditation
  • The Abhidhamma Tradition
  • Mahayana Buddhism
  • Historical Developments of Buddhism

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Give a clear and accurate account of the origins and development of key Buddhist doctrines and practices.
  • Appreciate the wide range of beliefs and practices within Buddhism, some of which appear to conflict with each other.
  • Understand the problems associated with the interpretation of a large body of literature which has been written, reproduced and revised in different historical, social and geographical contexts.
  • Select and organise material from a wide range of primary and secondary sources, including resources selected from the lists of further reading.
  • Identify and focus in detail on key issues within each topic studied.
  • Construct a sustained and detailed argument, drawing on material from primary and secondary sources, and their own analysis.
  • Represent the views of others with fairness and integrity.
  • Show a well-developed ability to assimilate and evaluate competing arguments.
  • Show open-mindedness and make sound judgements.


Three-hour examination.

Indicative reading list

  • Gethin, R. The foundations of Buddhism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) [ISBN 9780192892231].
  • Harvey, P. An introduction to Buddhism: teachings, history and practices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) [ISBN 9780521313339].
  • Williams, P. Mahayana. Buddhism: the doctrinal foundations (London: Routledge, 2009) second edition [ISBN 9780415356527].
  • Williams, P. and A. Tribe. Buddhist thought: a complete introduction to the Indian tradition (London: Routledge, 2000) [ISBN 9780415207010].
  • Collins, S. Selfless persons: imagery and thought in Theravada Buddhism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) [ISBN 052139726X].
  • Conze, E. (editor and translator) Buddhist scriptures. (London: Penguin Books, 1959) [ISBN 0140440887].
  • Cush, D. Buddhism (London: Hodder and Stoughton Educational Division, 1993) [ISBN 0340546913].
  • Gombrich, R. Theravada. Buddhism: a social history from ancient Benares to modern Columbo (London: Taylor & Francis Books Ltd, 1988) [ISBN 0415075858].
  • Hodge, S. Tibetan Buddhism. (London: Judy Piatkus (Publishers) Ltd, 1999) [ISBN 0749918675].
  • Robinson, R.H. and Willard L. Johnson. The Buddhist religion: a historical introduction (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1996) [ISBN 0534207189].
  • Sadakata, A. Buddhist cosmology: philosophy and origins (Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing Co., 1997) [ISBN 4333016827].
  • Wijayaratna, M. Buddhist monastic life according to the texts of the Theravada tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) [ISBN 0521367085].