SOAS University of London

China & Inner Asia Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

Tibetan Buddhism

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

This module aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.  On successful completion of this module, students will have acquired a sound foundation in the historical, doctrinal and sociological dimensions of Tibetan Buddhism.

In addition, the module will shed light on the close links that existed between the religious and political authorities in traditional Tibetan society, which continue to inform Tibetan understanding of the relationship between secular and religious power.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Students should come equipped with a basic knowledge of the various Buddhist traditions of Tibet, their history, doctrinal foundations and manifold socio-political spheres of influence.

The content of this module covers four areas:

  • taking primarily a historical approach
  • Tibetan ritual
  • Tibetan Buddhist doctrines


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 2 hour lecture.

Scope and syllabus

Four main areas covered:

  • first segment, taking primarily a historical approach, focuses on Indian Buddhist developments that came to influence the Tibetan Buddhist  culture. Particular attention will be given to Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism and to phases in which these found their way into Tibetan religious culture.
  • second segment deals with Tibetan ritual practice and addresses such  topics as ritual structures, ritual typologies, initiations, consecrations and the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon.
  • third area of study centres around Tibetan Buddhist doctrines. It examines, in some detail, the formation and identity of the various schools and assesses their perspective literary contributions to Tibetan Buddhist thought.
  • in the fourth segment, emphasis will shift to the soci-political sphere, investigating the impact of Buddhism on Tibetan society, in particular with reference to institutional monasticism. Each of these segments will include analyses of some of the more salient features of the Buddhist culture of Tibet, including the practice and concepts of meditation, re-incarnation, spiritual lineage, guru-disciple relationship as well as the social and political manifestations of religious government.

Method of assessment

One two-hour written examination taken in May/June (60%); one essay of 3,000 words to be submitted on Friday, week 1, in the term following teaching (40%).

Suggested reading

  • Snellgrove D L (1987) Indo-Tibetan Buddhism , chpt. 3, 4, & 5, London , Serindia Publications.
  • Samuel. G. (1993) Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies , Washington and London, Smithonian Institution Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules