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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 and to reflect on one’s own cultural presuppositions. The course surveys the historical background of Buddhism from its Indian origins through its development and spread through Asia, through lectures, with an emphasis on primary sources (which are to be read here in translation) and secondary studies.

We will discuss the following topics (but students are encouraged to express their own interests, which will be accomodated):

  • General introduction: why is it important to study Buddhism and how should we do this?

  • The life and legacy of the founder, “the Buddha” through narrative, art, poetry

  • The essential teachings of Buddhism and the bewildering variety of interpretations

  • How did Buddhism function in India and its new homes in Asia

  • What is life, death, and rebirth according to Buddhism?

  • Buddhist philosophy: what do Buddhists debate about?

  • Buddhist monasticism: ideals and reality

  • The various forms of the religion: Mahāyāna, Zen, Tantric Buddhism

  • How did Buddhism end in India?

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, its sources, regionalism and its effects, the place of religion in life, and the tensions brought out by religious thinking. Hopefully you will develop a continued fascination with one of the major cultural forces of Asia (and, increasingly, the Euro-American world). The approach of the course is entirely non-confessional: on the contrary, it emphasises the large variety of perspectives one can take when studying Buddhism.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Assessment method


Both for the mid-terms and the finals you will have to write essays: 2 shorter ones for the first (ca. 800+ words; one answers a question from a list, the topic of the second one will be chosen by yourself) and a longer one for the latter (ca. 1200+ words; optionally either from a list or based on your choice). The art of essay writing is an essential part of a humanistic education and we will discuss this at some length.


The mid-terms count as 40% of your grade, the finals 50%. The remaining 10% will reflect your class participation: for this you will also have to write a short review of the course.


Should you not reach the minimum overall mark of 6, a resit option is available, i.e. you will have to re-submit your finals essay with the modifications we will discuss in person.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

You will have to read one introductory volume about Buddhism, e.g.

  • John Strong, Buddhisms: An Introduction (electronically available in the library)

  • Paul Williams and Anthony Tribe, Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition

  • David Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism

  • Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction.

Shorter papers focusing on a specific topic are provided suitably in advance. Further literature recommendation is available upon request.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
Registration Contractonderwijs.