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Unit information: Death and Afterlife in Buddhism in 2015/16

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Unit name Death and Afterlife in Buddhism
Unit code THRSM0112
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Langer
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will examine the issues relating to death in Buddhist theory and practice. Students will get acquainted with perspectives on death as formulated in the Buddhist textual tradition, but also with ritual practices dealing with such an event. The unit draws on textual sources and ethnographic data and themes covered will include 'deathlessness' (nirvana); various kinds of death and the associated rites, renunciation and ordination as a form of 'symbolic death'; relic cults; death and the regeneration of life and post-mortem rituals.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have

(1) developed a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of certain significant topics specific to a Buddhist tradition or practice;

(2) in-depth understanding of the nature of rituals related to death in a religious context;

(3) the ability to analyse and evaluate competing perceptions of the importance of death in Buddhism;

(4) demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument.

Additionally (specific to level M), students will be expected to

(5) display high level skills in evaluating, analysing, synthesising and (where apt) critiquing images and ideas.

(6) apply existing analytical strategies to new evidence with flexibility and creativity

(7) demonstrate the capacity for independent research

Teaching Information

10 x 2 hour seminars

Assessment Information

One summative essay of 5000 words

Reading and References

  • Paul Williams and Patrice Ladwig (eds) 2012. Buddhist funeral cultures of Southeast Asia and China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Bryan J. Cuevas and Jacqueline I. Stone (eds). The Buddhist Dead: Practices, Discourses, Representations, Honolulu: University of Hawai'I Press 2007.
  • Doniger O'Flaherty, W. (ed.) 1980. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, Berkeley, University of California Press
  • Allen Klima, A. 2002. The Funeral Casino: Meditation, Massacre, and Exchange with the Dead in Thailand, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2002.
  • Langer, R. 2007. Buddhist Rituals of Death and Rebirth: A study of contemporary Sri Lankan practice and its origins, Abingdon: RoutledgeCurzon.
  • Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Buddhism in Practice, Princeton U.P., 1995.