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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Charles F Keyes
ANTH 352
Seattle Campus

Buddhism and Society: The Theravada Buddhist Tradition in South and Southeast Asia

Religious tradition of Theravada Buddhism (as practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia). Variations in ethical orientations developed through Theravada Buddhist ideas. Recommended: either JSIS C 202 or one eastern religions course. Offered: jointly with JSIS C 356.

Class description

Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion tradition in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. This course first examines the historical sources of this tradition and then the ways in which it was transformed into a popular religious tradition in these societies. The course then will consider the relationship of the tradition to the political, economic and social lives of peoples in these societies today. Particular attention will be given to the relationship between Buddhism and capitalist development in Thailand, Buddhism and revolution in Cambodia and Laos, and Buddhism and social conflict in Burma and Sri Lanka. The focus of this course is on Buddhism as it is practiced. By this is meant focusing more on rituals and social life as influenced by Buddhism than on the textual sources of belief. In the first part of the course, we will examine the basic tenets of Theravada Buddhism as they are understood by those who practice the religion. We will then explore the ays in which these tenets have been made relevant to on-going social lives of peoples in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Students will be presented material through lectures, films, slide presentations and assigned readings. Classroom time will also be devoted to discussion and students should be prepared at each meeting of the class to ask questions on the assigned materials and to participate in discussions.

Recommended preparation

The most successful students in this course in the past have been those who have a prior interestin Buddhism and have previously taken courses in either anthropology and/or comparative religion.

Class assignments and grading

Students are required to read assigned readings from two texts and a collection of assigned articles. The two texts will be: THERAVADA BUDDHISM: A SOCIAL HISTORY FROM ANCIENT BERNARES TO MODERN COLOMBO by Richard Gombric (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul., 1988) and THE BUDDHIST WORLD OF SOUTHEAST ASIA by Donald K. Swearer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995). In addition, students are also required to take notes on all films shown in class as these will also be considered part of the text materials. Finally, students are required to attend and take notes on all lectures and slide presentations. There will be three take-home examinations. Each of these will be divided into two parts: (1) Short identification in which students are asked to identify in a short essay (a paragraph or two) three concepts or names drawn from the readings and lectures. In these identifications, students should clearly indicate what relevance the concept or name has for the study of Buddhism and society and should also provide some indication of the context in which the concept or name has appeared in the readings, lectures, and/or films. (2) Essay: Students will be asked to write an essay of 3-5 pages on one question out of a choice of two. The essay should integrate material drawn from the relevant lectures, films, and assigned readings.

Each exam will have a total of 100 points, with short identifications being given a maximum of 15 points each and the essay a maximum of 55 points. At the end of the term, the total will be added up and divided by three and the resultant score equated with 4.0 scale. An additional 0.1 can be added to the grade through active participation in classroom discussion.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Charles F Keyes
Date: 10/17/1999