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RELS216 Zen Buddhism

The history, doctrines, and practices of Chan Buddhism in China and Zen Buddhism in Japan. Zen practices, as meditation and koan, and the encounter with the "West".

This course is an overview of the advent and development of Zen (Chinese: Chan 禪), a form of Buddhism centered on the practice of meditation. Using both primary and secondary sources, we cover the premodern origins of Buddhist meditation in India, the institutionalization of Chan in China, and its subsequent transnational journey throughout Japan, East Asia and the world. We consider the influence of Zen on the modern mindfulness movement and on widespread secular interest in meditation and wellness.

Major subthemes include the question of religious experience; history and genealogy; Zen theories of language; Zen modernism and its influence in psychology, neuroscience and medicine. Throughout the course, we highlight the continual processes of translation, change and adaptation that have characterized Zen Buddhism since its beginning.

Paper title Zen Buddhism
Paper code RELS216
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (Distance learning)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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36 points
RELS 316, RELX 216, RELX 316
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
May not be credited together with RELS231 or RELS331 passed in 2008.

Dr Lina Verchery

Teaching staff

Dr Lina Verchery

Paper Structure

This class covers the following topics:

  • Zen religious experience; 
  • History and genealogy; 
  • Zen theories of language; 
  • Zen modernism and its influence in psychology, neuroscience and medicine.

The assessment at 200 level has four components:

  • Weekly reflections - 20%
  • Essay Outline - 10%
  • Essay (2,000 words) - 35%
  • Exam (3 hours) - 35%
Teaching Arrangements

The Distance Learning offering of this paper is taught remotely.

Campus: Weekly lectures and tutorials
Distance: Online discussion

A coursebook containing lecture notes and readings is available for this paper. Printed copies will be provided for distance students and are also available through the printshop. The coursebook is also available as a PDF through Blackboard.
Course outline
View the sample course outline for RELS 216
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Research, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
200-level students who successfully complete the paper will be:
  • Able to demonstrate knowledge of concepts and ideas concerning Zen Buddhism
  • Able to describe the historical development of Ch'an and Zen Buddhism
  • Familiar with important literature in English language concerning Zen Buddhism
  • Familiar with contemporary debates about Zen's (re)invention and interpretations
  • Able to present an analytical argument in essay form on a chosen topic

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Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system