SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Buddhist Monasticism

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

The content of this course covers four areas of instruction. 

  • First, the student will be systematically introduced to the sources used in the study of Buddhist monasticism, consisting mainly of archaeological, religious and historical materials. 
  • Second, the student will be introduced to the particular features and organisational structures that characterise Buddhist monasticism in ancient India. 
  • Amongst other, this segment will examine the inter-relationship between monastic authority and secular power as well as evaluate the socio-cultural context in which Buddhist monasticism evolved. This part of the course will also assess the degree to which doctrinal issues affected religious practice among ordinary monks and lay-followers, as well as extrapolate the salient features of Buddhist life in India. Approximately 50% of the course time will be devoted to this area of instruction. 
  • In the third segment, the discussion will move further afield to examine the monastic traditions of China and Tibet. Here, particular emphasis will be placed on the evolution of regional characteristics and their relationship to Indian monastic structures.
  • Finally, the course will investigate the usefulness of monastic sources, beyond the confines of monastic communal life, to afford us insight into the structures, concerns and practices that dominated daily life of the Buddhist Sangha on the Indian Subcontinent.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • give a sound assessment of the major religious, historical and economic developments shaping the monastic traditions of India, Tibet and China
  • he/she should be in the position to account for the regional variants found in the different traditions of Buddhist monasticism and evaluate the extent to which their particular organisational features are derived from the early monastic tradition in India.
  • be able to characterise the interaction between the mosnastic authorities and the secular powers in the larger socioeconomic environment in which they operated.
  • be able to evaluate to what degree the study of monasticism furthers our understanding of the day-to-day life of Buddhist communities in ancient India and beyond.

Method of assessment

Exam (60%) and Essay (40%)

Suggested reading

  • Schopen, Gregory (2004) Buddhist Monks and Business Matters: Still More Papers on Monastic Buddhism in India (Studies in the Buddhist Tradition), Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Schopen, G Bones (1997) Stones and Buddhist Monks: Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Gernet, J (1995) Buddhism in Chinese Society, trans. by F Verhellen, New York: Columbia University Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules