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Introduction to Buddhism


Admission requirements



This course provides a general introduction to Buddhism as a religious system, set of philosophies and doctrines, and cultural force. The study of Buddhism also provides an excellent opportunity to approach basic human questions of an entirely general type. The course surveys the historical background of Buddhism from its Indian origins through its development and spread through Asia, through lectures, reading in primary sources in translation and secondary studies.

Topics which may be included:

  • General Introduction: Issues and Problems

  • The Buddha’s life

  • The Shape of the Universe and Our Place in It

  • Basic doctrine: Non-self; dependent origination; emptiness

  • The Nature of Death and What to Do About It

  • Buddhist monasticism

  • Other Ways of Being Buddhist

  • Chan/Zen

  • The Spread of Buddhism

  • Buddhism in Society (aka the “real” world)

  • Summing Up and Coming to Terms with Buddhism

Course objectives

Through this course you will gain a familiarity with basic chronological / historical information about Buddhism, Buddhist cosmology, the major movements of ideas and practices in Buddhism over time, the major forces acting on Buddhism over time, the major sources for the study of Buddhism, and think about questions such as the nature of authority, and its sources, regionalism, and its effects, and the place of religion in life, and the tensions brought out by religious thinking. The approach of the course is entirely non-confessional, meaning that we aim to look as objectively as possible at Buddhism as an object of study.


Timetable BA South and Southeast Asian Studies
Timetable Minor Religion in a changing world Timetable Religiewetenschappen

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Attendance is not obligatory for lectures. The conveners do not need to be informed in case of missed classes. Information and knowledge provided in the lectures greatly contribute to the subsequent courses of the programme and their contents will be part of the examination. In order to pass the course, students are strongly advised to attend all sessions.

Course Load

  • 2 Contact hours/week (2hs class): 13×2hs: 26 hours

  • Readings (540pp., of which 70pp. cursory): 76 hours

  • Preparing 8 weekly summaries of readings (1A4): 15 hours

  • Preparing for midterm & final exam: 1×9 & 1×10hs: 19 hours

  • Examination 4 hours Total: 140 hours

Assessment method


  • Participation (mandatory) and summaries (at least 8/10);

  • Written examination with essay questions (we) for both midterm (1Q; 40%) and final exam (3Qs; 50%);

  • Re-sit: 3Q on entire course.


  • Participation (mandatory) and summaries (at least 8/10): 10%.

  • Written examination with essay questions (we) for both midterm (1Q; 40%) and final exam (3Qs; 50%): 90%

  • Re-sit: Only for the final exam: 3Q on entire course: 50%


In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. Students will be able to do the re-sit as described above.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam Review

If a student requests in writing a review of his/her examination answer script within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.



Reading list

  • TBA

  • The Heart of Understanding by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 0938077112, paper, Parallax Press, 1988).


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Studeren à la carte. See remark.


Prof. Dr. J.A. Silk


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).