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Buddhism and Social Justice


Admission requirements

This course, which is financed by the Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies Fonds, is open to all interested in the field of Buddhist Studies. Students who want to get credits for the course, should register for the course as for regular courses and will have to write the paper. Others do not have to register and can just attend the lectures.


In the West, Buddhism is often thought of as promoting social standing and equality. In particular, the Buddha himself tends to get portrayed as someone agitating against the caste system. Upon closer inspection, however, we find that in countries where Buddhism is an important part of people’s lives, social injustices remain. We can think of recent examples Buddhist-motivated discrimination in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. But examples can easily be given of similar historical situation of these Buddhist regions. The topic of this course was the subject of Prof. Silk’s VICI project between 2010 and 2015 and the main findings of this research project will be discussed during this course. First of all, the contentious topic of social justice will be treated. Having read and discussed the essential relevant literature, which is often political science based, we will turn to various case studies based on research on different Buddhist communities in Asia. The approach is diachronic, which means we will not be limited to the current-day status of social justice in Buddhist countries, but that we will turn to, for example, information based on Buddhist sutras or hagiographies of Ashoka. In the first half of this lecture series there is a stronger emphasis on theory and thematic comparison, whereas during the second half case studies are treated from the various Buddhist communities in space and time. We will pay particular attention to the way Buddhists, now and then, negotiated the (perceived) tensions between the ideal and the practical. Students are expected to participate actively in the seminar, demonstrating their ability to think critically.

Course objectives

By the end of this course the students will:

  • have a good understanding of the various ways in which social justice has been conceptualized in various disciplines

  • have developed a critical stance and an ability in distinguishing normative, descriptive, and analytical literature

  • have received an overview of the literature on social justice in relation to Buddhism

  • have better general knowledge, insight, and writing skills with regard to the studied subjects.



Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Course Load

  • Total course load for the course: 10 EC = 280 hours.

  • Hours spent on attending lectures: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 26 hours.

  • Preparation for weekly lectures: 4 hours per week x 12 weeks = 48 hours

  • Paper assignment: 206 hours

Assessment method

  • Attendance and participation: 10%

  • Paper (appr. 8,000 words): 90%

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. A new version of the final paper (90%) may be written if the overall mark for the course is “5.49” (=5) or lower. The deadline for this version will be determined in consultation. In the case of a re-write the overall grade will not exceed 6.0.

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



Reading list

Reading assignments will be announced at the first meeting.


All students wanting to get credits for this course 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.”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs


No registration needed to attend this course as a student à la carte.


Dr. Berthe Jansen


Other Buddhism related courses

At BA-level
Fall Semester
Anthropology and Buddhism in Asia
Buddhism through Stories
Buddhist Art
Culture of Tibet
Introduction to Buddhism
Japanse religies en boeddhisme
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts
Iconography of South and Southeast Asia
Elementary Pali
Tibetan 1

Spring Semester
Architecture: The Temple and the Stupa
Chinese Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibet: State and Society
Sacred Biography in Buddhism and Jainism
Indian Philosophy
Tibetan 2

At MA-level
Reading Buddhist Scriptures
Virtue, Vice and Depravity: Buddhist and Contemporary Accounts

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 accommodations 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).