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RELS521 Readings in Buddhist Texts

A critical study of a selected Buddhist text or texts. Provides an introduction to the methods appropriate to the study of ancient texts.

Buddhist monastic law codes (Vinayas) are undoubtedly the most important literary sources for understanding how Buddhism was not only meant to be practised in India some time around the turn of the Common Era, but also for how it was actually practised. Despite their importance, these texts are commonly read only superficially and uncritically, in part perhaps because we already “know” from modern traditions and our own preconceived and often hopelessly romanticized notions how Buddhist monks and nuns are supposed to live the religious life.

The aim of this seminar is to increase students’ familiarity with both the content and structure of canonical Indian Buddhist monastic law codes and how scholars have utilized such texts in order to improve our understanding of various aspects of Buddhist monasticism in India including but not limited to socio-economic realities and the development of legal traditions. Students will be required to read not only passages from canonical texts (in translation), but also commentaries thereon and scholarly articles which engage with this material.

Students will develop a critical awareness and appreciation for the scope of material found in Indian Buddhist monastic law codes, a familiarity with recent scholarship in Buddhist Studies in general and Vinaya Studies in particular, critical reading and thinking skills, and basic research skills.

The paper will be taught by Visiting Professor, Shayne Clarke, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University and leading authority on Buddhism and Buddhist law.

Paper title Readings in Buddhist Texts
Paper code RELS521
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.25
Points 30 points
Teaching period(s) 1st Non standard period (6 February 2023 - 18 April 2023) (Distance learning)
1st Non standard period (6 February 2023 - 18 April 2023) (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $2,162.75
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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Limited to

Teaching staff

To be advised

Teaching Arrangements

The Distance Learning offering of this paper is a combination of remote and in-person teaching

This paper will be taught as an intensive course. Students (including distance students) will be required to complete preparatory reading and then be present on campus in Dunedin for a week of intensive seminars. Assessment will be completed during the course of the first semester.


To be advised

Graduate Attributes Emphasised

Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Information literacy, Research.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this paper, learners will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an informed understanding of key concepts and major themes within the text(s) studied
  • Discuss critically the context of origin, history of transmission and reception of the text
  • Outline the traditional methods of exegesis of the text and its place within the wider canon of Buddhist literature
  • Critically analyse the doctrinal stance of the text and its relation to other Buddhist traditions and to Buddhist practice
  • Assess the secondary literature on the text and evaluate the different approaches to the text in contemporary scholarship
  • Demonstrate that they have acquired the basic methodological skills to undertake independent research on Buddhist texts, working on primary sources

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1st Non standard period (6 February 2023 - 18 April 2023)

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

1st Non standard period (6 February 2023 - 18 April 2023)

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system