Buddhism in America

Course Description

This course examines the transmission, growth, and transformation of Buddhism in America from the nineteenth century to the present day. We will treat American Buddhism as a distinct regional variety of Buddhism with its own history, characteristics, and debates. Through select readings, films, discussions, and research, students will explore the main events and issues that have shaped the American encounter with Buddhism. We will learn the history of Buddhism in the United States, major traditions of American Buddhism (Zen, Tibetan Vajrayana, and Theravada) and contemporary issues and debates. Topics covered will include Orientalism, gender, race, and science and meditation. This course will introduce students to Buddhism through its transmission to and growth within the United States. The first half of the course will cover the historical transmission and growth of Buddhism in the United States from its introduction in the nineteenth century and its growth in the 1950s with Beat Buddhism and the 1960s with the countercultural movement. The second half of the course will explore individual themes in-depth, with room for adjustment according to student interest. By the end of the course, it is hoped that students will be able to recognize and critically examine the way that Buddhists and Buddhist sympathizers present Buddhism in the United States. Students will learn how to differentiate between primary and secondary sources and assess primary sources against scholarship that analyzes modern Buddhism. Students will develop an appreciation for how regional differences, community demographics, and competing claims create different narratives of the Buddhist past and present that intersect with and challenge each other. Students will develop one research project around a single Buddhist object, text, film, or practice and analyze the way that this object presents Buddhism and contextualize that presentation. As the course progresses students will workshop these projects with each other.

Course Details

  • Grading Basis: Letter Grade or Credit/No Credit
  • Cross-Listings: CSRE 32H
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