ANTH 321
Brutal Buddhism: Buddhism & Violence Fall 2022
Division II
Cross-listed ANTH 321 / ASIA 322 / REL 322

Class Details

Buddhist-sanctioned violence is often met with incredulous reception. Why? Buddhists, including monks, are human too. The single-story narrative that praises Buddhism as a peaceful tradition is fallacy. This myopic view of Buddhism is a result of colonial and orientalist legacies that have shaped Euro-American perspectives. Building upon the intellectual and social history of that legacy, in this course, we study Buddhist brutality. The cases include: the persecution of the Hindu-Tamil minority in Sri Lanka; the genocide of Rohingyas in Myanmar, fueled by the influence of outspoken figures like the Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, a nationalist and leader of the anti-Islam group 969, whose sentiments are shared among Buddhists in southern Thailand along the Muslim Malay border. We also look at the Thai conscription of forty-thousand soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War with the blessings of Buddhist monks, and WWII’s Japanese militarism supported by Zen Buddhism. The struggles for recognition of the nun’s order in Southeast Asia, and East Asian women’s soteriological limitations due to patriarchal structures, another kind of brutality, is also addressed. While these cases focus on Buddhist agencies of violence, war, and terror, we must consider political, economic, and socio-cultural factors. Students are encouraged to pursue original research that moves beyond questions such as “How do we reconcile violent episodes enacted by Buddhists?”, or “What justification is given for Buddhists to condone such acts?”. We do discuss these concerns, but we will not prioritize philosophical approaches or religious ideals. Rather this course emphasizes considerations on how Buddhism, like any other religion (indeed, any “-ism”), can be weaponized. So, the question becomes, “why?”. By the end of the semester, students will understand the importance of contextual analysis, positionality, globalization, and will be able to apply social theories of religion and violence.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 12
Expected: 8
Class#: 1622
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: midterm exam; Four one-page written critical reading responses; final project presentation and essay (1,500-1,750 words)
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: majors ANSO, REL, or concentrators in Asian Studies
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ANTH 321 Division II ASIA 322 Division II REL 322 Division II

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