SOAS University of London

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

Tibetan Buddhist Texts from Central Asia

Module Code:
Module Withdrawn
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3

This course is designed to equip the students with a good reading knowledge of Tibetan Buddhist texts from Central Asia. Since the texts selected for this course are read in the original language in which they were composed (mainly Tibetan, but also occasionally in Sanskrit), competence in Tibetan is a requirement. 

Generally speaking, the content of this course falls into two categories. About two thirds of the contact hours will be spent on reading and interpreting the texts selected for this class. This will take place in seminar settings where students are expected to contribute actively to the linguistic, religious and cultural interpretation of the reading material. For this to proceed at an acceptable pace, it is essential that students have prepared the relevant passages at home and are broadly familiar with their contents. The majority of texts read in this course will be selected from the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition, mainly stemming from the Kanjur and textual finds in Central Asia. The second segment consists of lectures in which students will learn of the literary, historical and religious context in which the selected texts were composed. This is intended to foster in students a broad understanding of early Tibetan religious literature and will cover material well beyond the parameters set by the texts read in the seminars. Particular emphasis will be given to exegetical materials written in the early phase of Buddhism in Tibet in order to bring out the socio-religious factors that led eventually to the whole-scale adoption of Buddhism in Tibet.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate that he/she has acquired a sound understanding of the historical, cultural and religious features of the texts that have been read in class. He/she should also be capable of independently reading and interpreting texts from related genres of Tibetan Buddhist historical literature. In addition, since the sources are read in the original language he/she will have acquired competence in the linguistic peculiarities of early Tibetan text materials. Finally, a student should have developed a good grasp of the religio-historical context in which the selected texts were conceived and discuss the ways in which a particular work reflects the development of Tibetan civilisation in Central Asia.

Method of assessment

1 essay (3000 words) (40%), 2-hour exam (60%).

Suggested reading

  • Beckwith, C I (1980) ‘The Tibetan Empire in the West’, in Aris and Kyi eds. Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, Warminster: Aris & Philips pp.30-38.
  • Haarh, E (1969) The Yar-lu∫ Dynasty, Copenhagen.
  • Thomas, F W (1935) Tibetan Texts and Documents Concerning Chinese Turkestan, London: Royal Asiatic Society.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules