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RELS436 Buddhism, State and Society

Buddhist thinking about ideal political order including relationships between religion and state, monks and kings, morality and power, ethics and war, religious difference and the 'nation'. Buddhist political philosophy.

Often imagined as a pacific, other-worldly religion, Buddhism has for a long time been involved in social and political struggles throughout Asia. In Sri Lanka, monastic groups have been involved in nationalist politics. In Thailand, Buddhist monks have involved themselves with environmental activism. In Cambodia and Korea, Buddhist temples served as key sites for anticolonial mobilisation. This paper examines the links between Buddhism and politics in the colonial and contemporary periods.

Paper title Buddhism, State and Society
Paper code RELS436
Subject Religious Studies
EFTS 0.1667
Points 20 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2021, expected to be offered in 2024 (Distance learning)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,154.90
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,801.79

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One 300-level RELS or RELX paper
RELS 336, RELX 336, RELX 436

Teaching staff

To be advised when paper next offered

Paper Structure
Topics include:
  • Buddha's social and political background
  • Buddhist righteous King
  • Buddhist warfare
  • Creating the Buddhist Empire
  • Buddhist Law and Managing Buddhism
  • Buddhism under Colonialism
  • Buddhist Nationalism
  • Modern Buddhist Politics
  • Buddhism and Socialism
  • Buddhist perspectives on war and peace
  • Buddhist diplomacy and Buddhist nationalism
  • Engaged Buddhism and social movements
  • Buddhist environmentalism
Teaching Arrangements
One 2-hour lecture per week, plus one 2-hour seminar per week
A coursebook is being developed for this paper.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
By the end of the paper, students should be able to demonstrate a sound understanding of:
  • The Buddha's social and political background
  • Buddhist kingship and alternative forms of governance
  • Nationalism, Buddhism and the state
  • Buddhism, Marxism and the Cold War
  • Buddhist perspectives on war and peace
  • Buddhist protest movements
  • Buddhist economics and environmentalism
  • Political implications of Buddhist meditational practice

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Not offered in 2021, expected to be offered in 2024

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