Level 5 - DT2009-02

This module focuses on the exploration of the ‘Three Jewels’ of Buddhism, i.e. the Buddha (its founder and inspirational icon), the Dharma (his teachings, including doctrinal developments in subsequent centuries, and systems of practice) and the Sangha (the communities of those who identify themselves in different ways as ‘Buddhists’). 

The module will look at how Buddhists perceived the world and deities in the pre-modern period, and how they analysed human experience as a background to religious practice. It will examine core religious practices including meditation and look at major historical developments of Buddhism in India and Southeast Asia.

Topics covered

Main topics of the module include:

  • Dharma, the Buddha’s teaching 
  • The Buddha and the bodhisattva; polytheism and atheism
  • The Sangha: The role of monastics and the rules they follow
  • Women in Buddhism
  • Buddhist practice: meditation
  • Buddhist Ethics: karma, precepts, non-harming. Buddhist approaches to disability, abortion, suicide and euthanasia 
  • Buddhist Ethics: the environment, attitudes to meat-eating, and social engagement
  • Buddhist scripture
  • Doctrinal developments in India: the Mahayana
  • Ritual and ‘magical’ dimensions from soteriology to protection: Vajrayana; apotropaic practices including amulets.

Learning outcomes 

On successful completion of this module, you will be expected to be able to: 

Knowledge and understanding 

  • To develop an overview of various strands of South and Southeast Asian Buddhist traditions in historical context and contemporary representation;
  • To recognise the main principles and characteristics of Buddhist religion and appreciate how these shed light on assumptions about religion derived from the Abrahamic tradition; 
  • To gain an orientation in relation to the variety of Buddhist religious forms, and perceive commonalities across this diversity;
  • To demonstrate an appreciation of non-western cultures and worldviews;

Intellectual and cognitive skills 

  • Select and organise material from a range of primary and secondary sources; 
  • Identify and focus in detail on key issues within each topic studied; 
  • Conduct a detailed critical analysis of key arguments; 
  • Construct a sustained argument, drawing on material from secondary sources and own analysis. 

Practical and transferable skills 

  • Represent the views of others with fairness and integrity;
  • Show an ability to assimilate and evaluate competing arguments; 
  • Show open-mindedness and make sound judgements; 
  • Produce clear, well-structured written work; 
  • Write fluently, with minimal grammatical and typographical errors.


A two thousand-word essay (40%) and a 1.5-hour unseen written examination (60%).

Tutor in the Study of Religions

Dr Carool Kersten

Dr Carool Kersten

Dr Carool Kersten is a Reader in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World. He specializes in political Islam and the intellectual history of the modern Muslim world, as well as Islam in Southeast Asia. Dr Kersten is the author and editor of eleven books. He is also a founding member of the British Association of Islamic Studies (BRAIS), serving on the council and advisory board.