Fall 2018 - HIST 468W D100

Problems in the History of Religion (4)

Modern Apps Early Buddhism

Class Number: 5198

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 9:30 AM – 1:20 PM
    AQ 5017, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units, including nine units of lower division history.



An advanced examination into the concepts and methodology of the history of religion. Content may vary from offering to offering; see course outline for further information. HIST 468W may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught. Writing.


Modern Applications of Early Buddhism

Of the "big three" "world" "religions," the history of Buddhism has been the least well studied by western scholars.  Over the last two and a half millennia the teachings and institutions of the Buddha have shown some surprising changes and continuities.  The first part of the course establishes a baseline by spending time with the Buddhism of ancient India. What was the "real" (i.e. the earliest?) Buddhism, and does that matter?  We'll learn enough Chinese to read some sources in the original, and others in English translation.  The second half of the course looks at modern applications of Theravada Buddhism, from anti-imperialist meditation movements in Burma, to women's ordination in Thailand, to the CIA deploying Buddhism in the Cold War, to teaching "mindfulness" in classrooms in North America. How much do they resemble early Buddhism?  Are there other ways to make early Buddhism useful to society today?

Content and Language Integrated Learning
To better understand the process of scriptural and cultural translation, we will learn enough literary Chinese to read short passages in the original.    No previous knowledge of Buddhism, Asian history, or the Chinese language is required.  This is meant to be fun and fruitful:  You will only be required to learn to recognize on sight (not write) a small (maximum 12) number of characters, and the grading schema, below, means that this is not necessarily a large component of your evaluation.  I have taught this module once before, with great enthusiasm from the students.


  • Seminar attendance and participation 20%
  • Quiz on basic concepts 5%
  • Two 6-to-10-page research papers 40%
  • Two Two 2-page prospectuses for the research papers 15%
  • Two referats (formal presentations on research) 10%
  • Semi-weekly mostly open-book Chinese language quizzes 5%
  • Average score of your Chinese quizzes or your research papers, whichever is higher 5%



Richard F. Gombrich, Theravāda Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo (2006)

(other texts will be made available)   

Registrar Notes:

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Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html