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Buddhist Traditions

The Field

This PhD specialization builds upon the research interests and academic strengths of faculty within and outside of the Religion Department. Its main focus is on East Asian, especially Chinese, forms of Buddhism. The program aims at providing students with comprehensive knowledge about various aspects of Buddhist studies, including major texts, philosophies, practices, histories, languages, and institutions. It also addresses key issues associated with research method and theory, and situates Buddhism in relation to other religious traditions.  Areas of specialization can include specific Buddhist texts or traditions, historical periods, religious practices, and issues or developments in contemporary Buddhism.


Jonathan Edelmann has written on Hindu notions of self and identity, much of which is in conversation with Buddhist philosophy. He has taught key authors in the Indian Buddhist tradition such as Nāgārjuna and Śāntideva at the undergraduate and graduate level. Edelmann has also taught issues related to epistemology (pramāa) as debated by Indian Buddhists and the Yoga, Nyāya, and Vedānta schools.

Mario Poceski is a leading scholar of Buddhist studies and Chinese religions. Poceski’s most recent books are The Records of Mazu and the Making of Classical Chan Literature (2015), The Wiley Blackwell Companion to East and Inner Asian Buddhism (2014), Introducing Chinese Religions (Routledge 2009), and Ordinary Mind as the Way: The Hongzhou School and the Growth of Chan Buddhism (2007). His publications also include two other books and numerous articles and chapters on various aspects of Buddhist studies.

Richard Wang is a specialist in Chinese religion and literature, with a focus on late imperial China (14th to 19th centuries). He is currently exploring the intersections of Daoism and local society in Ming China and the religious dimensions of Ming novels. His teaching covers Chinese religion (especially Daoism), culture, language, and literature. His publications include The Prince and Daoism: Institutional Patronage of an Elite (2012) and The Ming Erotic Novella: Genre, Consumption, and Religiosity in Cultural Practice (2011).

Several faculty in related departments have research and teaching interests related to the study of Buddhism or Chinese religions, and have served on the committees of students specializing in Buddhism.

Guolong Lai is a prominent art historian, whose research covers religion in ancient China. He is the author of Excavating the Afterlife: The Archaeology of Early Chinese Religion (2015).

Ying Xiao conducts research and teaches Chinese culture, film, language, and media studies. She is also interested in the intersections of Buddhism and film, and is developing a course on that subject with Prof. Poceski. Her latest publication is China in the Mix: Cinema, Popular Music, and Multilingualism in Post-socialist Society (2017).

Faculty and graduate students are also able to work with colleagues in other departments and programs, such as Anthropology, History, and Women’s Studies, to develop interdisciplinary research or collaborative teaching programs in various fields that incorporate the study of Buddhism.

Graduate Students

The specialization in Buddhist studies incorporates a variety of relevant themes and approaches, including textual, historical, ethnographic, or archival research, covering a vast array of Buddhist beliefs, doctrines, and practices. Graduate students specializing in Buddhist studies work on diverse topics, such as the early development of Pure Land Buddhism, the emergence and growth of the Medicine Master Buddha cult in medieval China, the role of women in Chinese religions, and the intersections of Buddhism and American literature.

Recommended courses (beyond Method & Theory I and II and the Interdisciplinary Seminar): Students are strongly encouraged to take a broad array of courses, within and outside of the department, in consultation with their mentor.

Elective courses: Students have the freedom to choose courses that fit their intellectual interests and enhance their academic study. These may include graduate courses offered by other programs or departments, such as art history, Chinese studies, anthropology, women’s studies, and film and media studies.

Language requirement: Students must demonstrate competence in at least one language used in the study of Buddhism (primarily Chinese, but it can also be another language, such as Japanese or Korean). Sometimes a second language may be needed, depending on the student’s area of specialization and its relevance to his/her dissertation research.

Qualifying examinations: Students will take five examinations in the following areas: (1) Buddhist studies; (2) the study of another religion (e. g. Islam, Daoism, or Hinduism) or the religions of a geographical area (e. g. China);  (3) religious studies method and theory; (4) relevant sub-fileld in Buddhist studies; and (5)an oral examination, to be taken upon successful completion of all written qualifying exams. The oral examination will be based on the answers to the written examinations.