"Elements of Religion"

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CATALOGUE: "Examines in cultural and historical perspective, drawing on both ancient and contemporary sources, the key practices and ideas of Buddhist traditions in India, China, Southeast Asia, Tibet, Japan, & other surrounding regions [view map of Asia]; as well as the more recent spread of these practices and ideas to Europe, North America, & Australia". (GE Area: C1)

[View map of Asia.]

THIS SECTION will focus on the influence of and relationships between settled monks, wandering ascetics, and laypeople in the above mentioned cultural areas. The course as a whole, however, is inquiry-based, with investigation of Buddhist traditions motivated by broad questions about the nature of religion. To stimulate this inquiry, I will return repeatedly to ***THREE BROAD INTERRELATED QUESTIONS*** that have guided my own selection of reading materials and assignments:

  1. How have the practices that Buddhist communities engaged in throughout history shaped what individual Buddhists have thought about and experienced inwardly?
  2. How has what individual Buddhists think about and experience inwardly shaped the practices preserved in their communities?
  3. As Buddhist traditions have evolved over generations, centuries and millennia, how have their observable manifestations (practice and communities) and hidden dimensions (thoughts and experiences related to unseen powers, forces and worlds) shaped and reshaped each other?

    (To find out more about how we will approach this focus, read the introductory essay, "Essential Elements of Religious Life.")

In the process of asking these questions, we will find that while Buddhist traditions do in some respects form a contintuous and integral whole, those traditions are also to a great extent heterogenous and dynamically changing. And to provide a real-world context for asking questions, we will consider various contemporary scenarios of what you yourself would say in response to common questions and statements about Buddhism, and about religion generally, that you might hear from friends, family and acquaintances.

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