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RELS316 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 institutionalisation 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 characterised Zen Buddhism since its beginning.

Paper title Zen Buddhism
Paper code RELS316
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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18 200-level RELS or RELX points
RELS 216, RELX 216, RELX 316
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
(i) May not be credited together with RELS231 or RELS331 passed in 2008. (ii) Students who have not passed the normal prerequisite may be admitted with approval from the Head of Department.

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 300-level has four components:

  • Weekly Reflections 20%
  • Essay 1 20%
  • Essay 2 (2,000 words) 25%
  • Exam (three hours) 35%
Teaching Arrangements

The Distance Learning offering of this paper is taught remotely.

Campus: Weekly lectures
Distance: Online discussion

A coursebook has been developed for this paper.
Course outline
View the sample course outline for RELS 316
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
300-level students who successfully complete the paper will be
  • Able to demonstrate knowledge of terminology, key theories and debates that lie behind contemporary literature on Zen Buddhism
  • Able to explore, through critical analysis, the history and development of Zen Buddhism
  • Familiar with theories of and critical approaches to Zen Buddhism
  • Able to develop creative and critical approaches by analysing texts and primary sources
  • Able to present an extended analysis in essay form using appropriate literature on a chosen topic

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Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system