SOAS University of London

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

Features of Buddhist Monasticism

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1
The content of this course covers four areas of instruction. First, the student are systematically introduced to the sources used in the study of Buddhist monasticism, consisting mainly of archaeological, religious and historical materials. 

Second, the students are acquainted with the particular features and organisational structures that characterise Buddhist monasticism in ancient India. Amongst other things, this segment also examines the interrelationship between monastic authority and secular power as well as evaluates the sociocultural context in which Buddhist monasticism evolved. This part of the course also assesses the degree to which doctrinal issues affected religious practice among ordinary monks and laity, as well as extrapolates the salient features of Buddhist life in India. Approximately 50% of the course time is devoted to this area of instruction.

In the third segment, the discussion moves further afield to examine the monastic traditions of China and Tibet. Here, particular emphasis is placed on the evolution of regional characteristics and their relationship to Indian monastic structures.

Finally, the course investigates the usefulness of monastic sources, beyond the confines of monastic communal life, to afford an 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, students 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;
  • account for the regional variants found in the different traditions of Buddhist monasticism and evaluate the extent to which their particular organizational features are derived from the early monastic tradition in India;
  • characterize the interaction between the monastic authorities and the secular powers in the larger socioeconomic environment in which they operated;
  • evaluate to what degree the study of monasticism furthers out understanding of the day-to-day life of Buddhist in ancient India and beyond.


1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar each week.

Method of assessment

1 essay - 3000 words (worth 80%); 1 Book Review - 750 words (worth 20%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules