SOAS University of London

Department of Religions and Philosophies

Buddhism: Theravadin Traditions

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2016/2017
Unit value:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

This course explores the texts, doctrines, history, beliefs, practice and social dimensions of Theravada Buddhism, in Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia. For the modern period we look at the effects of nationalism and Communism, globalisation and modernity.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The aim of the course is to provide students with an overview of the main features of Theravada Buddhism, both historical and modern, as well as a more in-depth understanding of the chief sources of religious authority, including texts, and some key issues in practices, societal role and history. Students will be introduced to the main debates in the field in relation to textual, historical and current forms of Theravada Buddhism, mainly in Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia.

By the end of the course students should be able to do most or even all of the following:

  • locate the main geographical  regions of Theravada Buddhism;
  • relate the spread of Theravada to historical developments;
  • describe major beliefs, practices and institutions in Theravada, including developments in these and potential tensions between doctrine and practice;
  • identify various authorities in Theravada;
  • identify the main bodies of authoritative literature;
  • discuss the content and significance of individual texts;
  • describe the role, real or attributed, of some important individuals in Theravada history;
  • demonstrate awareness of variety within Theravada;
  • relate visual world of Theravada to history, belief and practice;
  • assess the interaction of spiritual, political, and societal goals in Theravada;
  • analyse the use made of traditional histories within Theravada self-definition and authorisation;
  • contextualise and analyse such developments as Engaged Buddhism against their religions and political backgrounds;
  • discuss gender issues with specific reference to historical and modern Theravada;
  • discuss some of the academic theories propounded in relation to Theravada;
  • demonstrate ability to present a coherent account of an aspect of Theravada to other students verbally.

Method of assessment

Coursework: one 3,000 word essay, one oral presentation. Assessment: two hour exam paper 60%, essay 30%, oral presentation 10%.


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