SOAS University of London

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

History and Doctrines of Indian Buddhism

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

This course has the two following aims:

  1. To explore the historical developments of Buddhist groups and lineages in South Asia, from the birth of the Buddhist tradition in the 5th century BCE, to its disappearance around the 12th-13th century CE.
  2. To engage with major Buddhist scriptures and doctrines, by carefully considering these in their wider context of production and transmission, and in relation to other forms of religious practices.

Topics to be addressed during the lectures will include:

  • An assessment of the little we know about the origins of the Buddhist tradition, and of the fascination these exerted on modern scholarship.
  • Early Buddhist lineages, and the formation of the Buddhist monastic order.
  • The formation, transmission and diversity of scriptures, and the issue of authority and authenticity.
  • Early Buddhist doctrines and scholasticism.
  • Indian Buddhist cosmology.
  • The personality of the Buddha and the hagiographic process.
  • The development of the Bodhisattva ideals and practices.
  • Loci of the sacred: images, temples, relics, and sacred books.
  • Rituals of protection, healing, consecration, and merit-making.
  • The interactions of Buddhists with the temporal power in South Asian kingdoms.
  • The development of the Bodhisattva ideals and practices.
  • Major philosophical developments: followers of the middle way (Mādhyamika), proponents of the mind only  (Yogācāra-Vijñānavādin), and of the Buddha-nature (Tathāgatagarbha).
  • The advent of Esoteric Buddhism in its broader Indian religious context.
  • Why did Buddhism disappear from its homeland?


The seminars will be dedicated to the discussion of primary sources (in English translation) and of academic articles relevant to the lecture’s topic. We will especially read scriptural, scholastic, and other literary sources, while also taking into consideration inscriptional, architectural and art-historical evidence. In the second term, each student will be given the opportunity to present the topic of his or her choice within a seminar.



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The primary objective of this course is to advance students’ knowledge of the development of the Buddhist tradition in its homeland, and to provide them with a critical awareness of the diversity of its discourses and practices.

Upon the completion of this course, students should:

  • have acquired a clear understanding of the historical development of Indian Buddhism as a whole.
  • have a sound knowledge of key Buddhist scriptures, schools  and doctrines.
  • have acquired a good understanding of some of the most essential practices for Buddhists in South Asia.
  • have gained experience in reading and analysing a variety of Buddhist sources, and be able to engage with the extent scholarship on a specific subject.
  • be equipped with the methodological skills to pursue postgraduate or independent research on practically any topic relating to Indian Buddhism.

Method of assessment

Coursework: One 3,000 words essay (20%);One 4,000 words essay (30%);One oral presentation (worth 10%);One two hour exam paper (40%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules