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Department of the Study of Religions

Chinese Religious Texts: A Reading Seminar

Course Code:
15PSRH038
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 1
This course is available to students already possessing an elementary knowledge of literary Chinese (with a vocabulary of 800-1,000 characters).

This reading seminar aims to supplement the currently available courses on Chinese religions with a direct approach to the original textual sources. The course will cover different religious traditions (Taoism, state ritual, Buddhism, medical texts of religious significance, popular religion, and so on) and different periods of Chinese history, and will include both canonical and extra-canonical materials.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, students should:

  • be able to read, understand and analyse, with the aid of a dictionary, samples of Chinese religious literature, with an awareness of the underlying cultural, social and historical contexts. 
  • have acquired the basic linguistic and methodological skills to undertake independent research on Chinese religious texts, working on primary sources. 
  • reached a good awareness of the textual study of Chinese religions as a field, and be familiar with the main relevant resources

During the week ahead of the lecture, students will be expected to do preliminary work on assigned passages and build the relevant vocabulary. Selected Chinese texts will then be read and analysed in class, with a focus on the religious and technical terminology and a full discussion of the attendant philological and grammatical issues.

Scope and syllabus

The list of texts will be agreed at the beginning of the course in order to suit specific interests and profiles of the participating students. As a rule, the course will include both texts that have already been translated and new, untranslated materials. 

In the first case, wherever possible, students will be confronted with different available translations so as to develop a critical awareness of the translation task as an eminently interpretive work. A merely orientative sample list will include the Zhuangzi, Taoist texts on self-cultivation, indigenous Buddhist texts (as distinguished from translations of Indic scriptures) and sectarian religious writings (so-called baojuan).

This course will contribute to the MA Religions. It will be of particular interest to students focusing on the religious traditions of China and East Asia, and it is specifically recommended to students pursuing the specialist pathways in Buddhist Studies (as a fundamental tool to understand the indigenous religious vocabulary of Chinese Buddhist texts) and Japanese Religions.

Method of assessment

Written Exam (60%), One 3.500 word Essay (40%). The essay needs to be submitted on the first day of the term following that in which the bulk of teaching has taken place.

Suggested reading

  • Dawson, Raymond. A New Introduction to Classical Chinese. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.
  • Yuan, Naiying – Tang, Haitao – Geiss, James. Classical Chinese: Introduction to Grammar: A Basic reader in Three Volumes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.
  • Yuan, Naiying and Geiss, James. Classical Chinese: supplementary selections from philosophical texts - glossaries, analyses. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006.
  • Pulleyblank, Edwin G. Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1995.
  • Unschuld, Paul U. Introductory readings in classical Chinese medicine: sixty texts with vocabulary and translation, a guide to research aids and a general glossary. Dordrecht : Kluwer Academic, 1988.
  • Huang Kaiguo (chief ed.): Zhuzi Baijia Da Cidian. Chengdu: Sichuan Renmin chubanshe, 1999.
  • Chen Fuhua. Gudai Hanyu cidian. Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 2000.
  • Gu, Charles Wei-hsun and Wing-tsit Chan. Guide to Chinese Philosophy. Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1978.
  • Jochim, Christian. Chinese religions: a cultural perspective. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1986.
  • de Bary, W. T. Sources of Chinese Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, 2nd edition.
  • Bokenkamp, Stephen. Early Daoist Scriptures, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
  • Lau, D.C. (trans.). Tao Te Ching. NY : Penguin Books, 1963.
  • Henricks, Robert G. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. New York: Columbia U.P., 2000.
  • Roth, Harold D. Original Tao: Inward Training (nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism. New York; Chichester: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • Lopez, Donald (ed.). Religions of China in Practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
  • Chang Chung-yuan (trans.). Original Teachings of Ch’an Buddhism Selected from The Transmission of the Lamp. New York: Pantheon Books, 1969.
  • Yampolsky, Philip B. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. New York: Columbia U.P., 1967.
  • Graham, A.C. Chuang-tzu: The Inner Chapters and other Writings from the Book Chuang-tzu translated by A.C. Graham. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1986.
  • Watson, Burton (trans.). The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York & London: Columbia University Press, 1968.
  • Mair, Victor. Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998.